Bernard J. Tyson, First Black CEO of Kaiser Permanente, 60

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Bernard J. Tyson

Just 24 hours after sitting on a panel in front of 5,000 Black techies at the annual AfroTech gathering at the Oakland Convention Center, Bernard Tyson, the first Black CEO of Kaiser Permanente, died on November 10.

Kaiser Permanente, the health insurance and hospital system Tyson led as CEO since 2013 – and chairman since 2014 – announced the 60-year-old executive’s sudden death.

“It is with profound sadness that we announce that Bernard J. Tyson unexpectedly passed away early today in his sleep,” Kaiser Permanente wrote in a statement published on the organization’s web site. The cause of death was not yet known.

“On behalf of our Board of Directors, employees and physicians,” Kaiser’s statement continued, “we extend our deepest sympathies to Bernard’s family during this very difficult time. An outstanding leader, visionary and champion for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.”

Tyson is survived by his wife, Denise Bradley-Tyson, and three sons: Bernard J. Tyson, Jr., Alexander and Charles.

Later on Sunday, Americans across the country –  and Californians across the state – joined Tyson’s shocked family members, colleagues and loved ones to remember the Bay Area native’s many contributions to his home state and country.

“I am heartbroken upon learning of the passing of Bernard Tyson,” said U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). “Bernard dedicated his life to making health care more accessible for our communities. My prayers and condolences are with his family and loved ones during this time.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued a statement shortly after finding out about Tyson’s death Sunday.

“Jennifer and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of health care pioneer and our dear friend Bernard Tyson,” the governor wrote. “Bernard’s vision and influence made an impact at home and abroad, and he led with excellence on behalf of millions of Kaiser patients and thousands of employees.”

Tyson, known across the country as one of the leading experts on U.S. health policy, was the only Black CEO of a billion-dollar corporation of a similar size in California. If Kaiser were publicly traded and were not a non-profit corporation, it would have been the 42nd largest Fortune 500 company in the United States.

Tyson was also one of only five Black CEOS in the United States leading a major corporation.   Kaiser Permanente administered 12.2 million health plans in 2018 and reported a net income of $2.5 billion. The corporation’s operating budget hovers just under $80 billion and it runs more than 700 medical facilities, including hospitals, across the United States.

People who knew Tyson also remember him as a champion of racial justice and an advocate for diversity and equality in the work place.

“I’m devastated,” Magic Johnson tweeted. The ex-NBA star and businessman was Tyson’s close friend.

“He was a visionary and championed for best quality and affordable healthcare, especially in underserved communities,” Johnson wrote in another tweet. “Bernard spent over 30 years at Kaiser and as an African-American man, I was so proud when he was named CEO.”

In 2017, Time Magazine included Tyson on its list of the world’s 100 Most Influential people.

The Golden Gate University alum (undergrad and graduate degrees) also served on a number of boards, including the American Heart Association and the San Francisco-based technology company Salesforce.

“A light unto this world has gone out,” tweeted SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff. “He always did so much for others and the world. One of the world’s greatest CEOs.”

Kaiser has appointed Gregory Adams, a former executive vice president, to replace Tyson as interim chief executive and chairman.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. also issued a statement:

“We are saddened by the sudden death of Bernard Tyson, chairman and chief executive officer of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Inc., who was a pioneer in the healthcare insurance industry.

His role as an advocate for racial justice and workplace diversity was a start. He set the agenda forever for the uninsured, the underinsured and the insured. Bernard Tyson was always there for those whose backs were against the wall.

As the debate rages on around the country for expanded healthcare for those who are locked out, his voice will be sorely missed.

I hope the Kaiser Permanente board will honor his legacy and that his replacement will have his values and his broad view.

May his soul rest in peace.”

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