Ruth Colby: Community Mourns Passing of Visionary, Mentor and Friend

Ruth Colby
Ruth Colby

By Nick Reiher

When she passed away unexpectedly at 69 recently, Ruth Colby, President and CEO of Silver Cross Hospital, was serving as chair of the Will County Center for Economic Development Board.

But for Doug Pryor and the CED staff, Colby was so much more, reminding them developing themselves and the community also were ways to bolster economic development.

“We have had a lot of board chairs,” said Pryor, President and CEO of Will County CED, “but no one touched the staff like Ruth did.”

Colby’s work touched many in the community, as evidence by the tributes offered when associates learned of her passing.

“Ruth was a good friend of mine, and a great leader in our community,” said New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann. “Her passion for quality healthcare, and compassion for all people, was something to be admired. She will be missed greatly.“

“Ruth Colby was the finest example of a servant leader I have had the opportunity to work with,” said Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy. “She was an extraordinary person who cared about all whom she met and will be missed greatly.”

Colby assumed the duties of President and Chief Executive Officer on Oct. 1, 2017, after serving as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for 12 years.

Silver Cross officials said her exceptional business acumen and visionary leadership led to transformational growth for Silver Cross Hospital over the years – expanding from a 289-bed hospital when the hospital opened its New Lenox campus in 2012 to 348 beds today.

During that time, the hospital’s medical staff also increased dramatically – from 350 medical staff members to more than 1,200 – attracted by the hospital’s commitment to providing exceptional care while investing in the latest medical technologies.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and leader, Ruth Colby,” said Jean Kenol, Chairman of the Silver Cross Board of Directors in a press release.

“Ruth was a true servant leader and a driving force in transforming Silver Cross from a community hospital to a regional medical center and nationally recognized healthcare brand. She was an inspiration to us all, was beloved by our hospital community and she loved them passionately in return. We will miss her terribly.”

Colby was also very active outside of the hospital – both in community organizations and healthcare associations. She served as Chair-Elect of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA) and was slated to become Chair in 2024. She also had recently been appointed to the American Hospital Association’s Regional Planning Board for Region 5.

“Ruth was a visionary leader in every sense of the word,” said A.J. Wilhelmi, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association. “She was a force for positive change and truly a force of nature. She made so many valuable contributions to IHA. We will miss Ruth more than words can say.”

Colby also served on the board of the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center, and was a member of the United Way of Will County Pillars Society, the Joliet Rotary Club and the Economic Club of Chicago.

“Our hearts are broken over the loss of true leader who served on the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center Board of Directors,” said CAC Executive Director Lisa Las. “Ruth was a brilliant and kind, quiet giant who worked hard and deeply loved her community, Silver Cross Hospital, and her family.”

“She was a genuinely compassionate human being, and cannot be replaced,” said Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow, who created the Will County CAC. “It’s very, very sad.”

In 2023, she was named New Lenox Citizen of the Year by the New Lenox Chamber of Commerce and a Notable Healthcare Executive by Crain’s Chicago Business. And at the time of her passing, she was to receive the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Rainbow Council of the Boy Scouts.

“I am extremely sad to learn about the death of Ruth Colby,” said Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant. “Ruth was an exemplary civic leader. I appreciated her passion for her work, her mentorship, and most importantly, her friendship. Ruth was a servant leader and her legacy is the outstanding health care institution she helped create in Will County.”

Jen Howard, President of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said Colby had a natural gift of thoughtfully connecting individuals and organizations together for their mutual benefit, a special gift that will have a lasting impact in the community.

“Ruth was not only one of the greatest leaders our community has ever had the fortune to have but was also a mentor, champion and true friend to so many,” Howard added.

“When you were in a conversation with Ruth, it was clear that she was giving her undivided attention. Ruth was wickedly smart but was the most humble person I have ever met.”

Pryor said the CED board will have a new chair, but they will miss Colby deeply.

“Before or after meetings, she would talk to staff, asking them what they wanted in their life. … I think about her taking some of staff under her wing. … She rose through the ranks as a woman at a time when that was not an easy thing to do.

“She was a champion for me, a mentor. She taught me how to run meetings better. She helped diversify our board, reaching out to partners in the community. She always knew how to get the best out of people, for their growth; not for hers.

“Ruth always was great about making sure I was thoughtful about pushing the staff forward into visible roles. She was so happy when our team took up the mantle and presented at meetings, showing the tools to discuss our work and mission.

“She had a big day job, but found time for us, for Illinois Hospital Association. I don’t know where she got the energy.”

Pryor said Colby a few months ago shared with him and a few close associates she would be having a procedure. She appeared to be fine, the same Ruth they were accustomed to working with.

“She told me she needed to take some time off, but that she would be back. She was going at things with the same energy, the same positive outlook. I had a little stack of work piled up for her. …”

 

 

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