UW News

September 21, 2000

Administrator who led UW Medical Center for 22 years dies

Robert H. Muilenburg, a nationally recognized leader in health-care administration who had been at the helm of University of Washington Medical Center since 1978, died Wednesday (Sept. 20) at his Seattle home. He had been diagnosed with brain cancer several months ago.

Muilenburg, 59, was recently honored by the UW Board of Regents. In special session Aug. 31, the Board approved naming the Cascade Tower of UW Medical Center (UWMC) as the Robert H. Muilenburg Tower “in honor of the person whose vision and executive administrative leadership during the past 22 years have established UWMC as one of the best hospitals in America.”

Muilenburg was at the center of the effort to plan and build the eight-story Cascade Tower, which was completed at the hospital’s southeastern edge in 1986. When another product of Muilenburg’s vision and planning is completed three years from now–the Surgery Pavilion of UW Medical Center–the Muilenburg Tower will be at the hospital’s physical core.

“As reflected in the Regents’ decision, it is a fitting tribute to Rob Muilenburg that the most central portion of UW Medical Center, the Cascade Tower, be named for the person who, for 22 years, has himself been at the very heart and soul of that hospital,” said Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, UW vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “His legacy includes a hospital that is the envy of academic medical centers across the nation.”

Muilenburg underwent surgery in March and was able to remain actively involved in hospital affairs until shortly before his death.

Muilenburg came to the UW in 1978, first as associate executive director and administrator of University Hospital (renamed UW Medical Center in 1989); and, since 1984, as its executive director. He is credited with taking a growing but still-fledgling teaching hospital that had been in existence fewer than 20 years, and turning it into what today is regarded as one of the best hospitals in America.

Muilenburg received his master’s degree in hospital and health administration from the University of Iowa, where he also completed his undergraduate education in business administration. He held management positions at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago and University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City before coming to Seattle.

As a national leader in health-care administration, he served as a trustee of the American Hospital Association (AHA), which represents hospitals and other health-care organizations, from 1992 to 1994.

Muilenburg was also a longtime regional leader in health-care administration, including active service on behalf of both the Utah and Washington hospital associations. He was a clinical associate professor of health administration and planning in the UW School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

Muilenburg was involved in expansion, renovation and patient care programs of UW Medical Center, which has been ranked among the finest hospitals in the nation repeatedly by U.S. News & World Report. He was also involved in development of the UW Physicians network of primary-care clinics; the creation of the region’s first successful air ambulance service, Airlift Northwest; the region’s first centralized bone and tissue donation service, LifeCenter Northwest; and the region’s first major cancer research and clinical care consortium, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

On a more personal note, in 1985 Muilenburg established the UWMC Art Program–combining his life-long interest in fine arts with his appreciation for how art can provide comfort to those undergoing difficulty. Today, the privately funded, hospital-owned collection has grown to more than 400 pieces by Pacific Northwest contemporary artists.

Muilenburg is survived by his wife, Judith; three sons, Matthew and Eric, both of Seattle, and Ronald, of Vancouver, Wash.; and seven grandchildren. A private family service will be held. Interment will be in Alton, Iowa. Plans for a memorial service at the UW will be announced later.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorials be sent to UW Medical Center, Box 356151, Seattle, WA 98195, in support of the medical center’s art program.