By Don Nelson
Jamey Thaw will take the reins of Athens Regional Health Services, the parent company of Athens Regional Medical Center, at the end of the year, stepping into the role of president and CEO as Jack Drew retires from a 29-year career leading the Athens hospital.
Before he agreed to take the job as the president and CEO of Athens Reigonal, Thaw had the same job at Broward General Medical Center and Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a combined 716-bed tertiary public facility with a trauma center, neonatal services and five accredited residency programs, as well as a palliative care fellowship program.
A native of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in health administration – both from University of South Carolina in Columbia.
He met his wife Rebecca while both were working on their master’s in health administration at USC.
The Thaws have two daughters, Jillian, 22, who recently graduated from Emory University and Olivia, 20, a sophomore at Louisiana State University. They also have two dogs – Piper, a Siberian husky and Zoe, a cross between a Maltese and a poodle.
One night in late October, the couple delivered 120 pizzas to hospital employees working the night shift. They planned to visit a morning shift, bringing biscuits to all the hospital workers.
That’s the kind of couple they are.
Don Nelson interviewed the Thaws recently about their decision to come to Athens, what they like about the Classic City and what they see as their future here.
AM: How would you describe your management style?
JT: I would probably describe it as more casual than formal. I try to recognize that the (staff) are the real heroes. It’s a humbling experience to walk in and see what they do. When we visited with staff (Oct. 26) we went in the neonatal intensive care unit where there was little baby there that was 1.2 pounds. My only goal and Rebecca’s (in that visit) was to thank the staff for what they’ve done and what they do. I’m at the bottom and they’re at the top, and they’re the ones that make a difference in people’s lives. We realize these people work awfully hard and sometimes not in the best circumstances. So my style is simply to be incredibly in awe of what they do I guess. And to be accessible – to be on a first-name basis and open to them calling me and emailing me, which they do, and to make sure I’m respectful and get back to them.
AM: What else does Jamey Thaw like to do in his time off?
JT: Truth be told, and this may be kind of hokey, but I prefer spending time with (Rebecca). You know, being empty-nesters for a couple of years. We’ve gotten some time to be together and to go on the town and visit the culture here. We do enjoy dining out, and we like to travel on occasion. I’d like to start playing golf again.
AM: How do you like Athens compared to the West Ft. Lauderdale community in Florida where you lived?
JT: I don’t know that there are any words we could say as to how much we love Athens and the Athens community. We went back (to Ft. Lauderdale) a couple of weeks ago and were preparing for the move, and for people who were born in Athens or who have been here for a while, they don’t realize how wonderful it is until you go somewhere and you realize there are no smiles, no hand shakes, no friendliness. We love Athens. We’re excited. We’ve purchased a home in Clarke County. We’re excited about that.
AM: I understand you’re a foodie?
JT: I like to eat. I can say that. If that fits that description, then I would say yes.
AM: I think of a foodie as someone who not only likes to eat, to cook, to read about food and all aspects of food. So you’re a cook?
JT: I enjoy it. Yes. It’s fun. It’s therapeutic for me. We enjoy it. The kids have grown up in a culture of trying different things, and I don’t think there’s anything they wouldn’t try. We’re kind of adventurous.
AM: Did you have times where you would get in the kitchen and all of you would cook together?
JT: And now too, though the older they get the more they want us to do it for them. And we’re a good fit. Rebecca’s a good baker and a dessert maker, and I’m not, so it’s kind of synergistic there. And the kids are kind of in there too, so it’s a lot of fun. The big thing is we’d cook every Sunday where we’d have the family dinner.
AM: Do you like experimenting with new recipes?
JT: Sure, we’ll try something and when it doesn’t turn out, I don’t take it personally that I didn’t do a very good job. So we’ll try anything, pretty much.
AM: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
JT: Oh, I can’t answer that. (Turning to Rebecca) What do you think?
RT: His short ribs are awesome. He cooks for two days for his short ribs. They’re amazing. (The recipe) is from a famous chef in New York City.
AM: What’s the chef’s name?
JT: There’s a restaurant called Daniel Boulud. I owe all this to my father, who has passed away for a number of years now and he was born in the Bronx, but he was very much into gastronomy. He never cooked a day in his life, but he always enjoyed going to the restaurants. When we grew up we were 15 minutes away from mid-town Manhattan, so I was exposed to everything from pizza to French food.
AM: Rebecca, you managed an urgent care clinic in Florida before moving to Athens, Do you plan to look for a professional position in Athens?
RT: No. I would like to dedicate my time here to being a support. I would like to be involved in the hospital in various aspects that are needed, whether it’s the foundation or just projects. And I would like to be involved in the community as well. Again, the whole concept here is community, and it’s not just Athens Regional, it’s Athens, it’s Clarke County, it’s the area. We see our roles here as being community based as well. I’d like to do as much as I can to become involved and help out as much as possible.
AM: Rebecca, you’re into fitness aren’t you? What got you into exercise?
RT: It was a lifestyle change that I made a decision about 11 years ago. I said, “OK, the kids are getting older and I’m going to concentrate on my health.” We just gradually integrated some more healthy decisions in cooking as well as fitness and exercise. I became certified as a group fitness instructor, and I actually taught classes in Florida at LA Fitness. I may teach here eventually, but I’m enjoying just participating.
AM: What type of exercise to you enjoy?
RT: I like a variety. I like zumba. The Fight Club at Omni is a lot of fun. I have a personal trainer that I’m utilizing. I like weight training. For a woman, that’s very unusual, but that’s probably my favorite. I really like resistance and weight training. I like it all, boot camp, you name it.
AM: What are your observations of Athens in the few months you’ve been here?
RT: I really like the energy and kindness. People are happy, and it’s nice to see smiles no matter where you go. I like to tell the story about the post office. It’s not very often you go into the post office wherever you are in the country and the people are nice. I had an experience here where they were just as nice as could be and that made a huge impact on me, because believe me, there have been some instances I have witnessed at post offices that were not very nice. Little things like that and people, anybody willing to help strangers is nice.
AM: Is there anything here in Athens you’ve particularly enjoyed doing?
RT: We go out to dinner alot. We are in a temporary furnished condo, and we use that as an excuse to go out to dinner a lot. And it’s fun because we haven’t had a meal out in Athens that we didn’t like. That’s incredible.
JT: Or service. I mean, again, I know we’ve harped on this, but coming from a little different part of the United States, and then coming here, it’s not a subtle difference. The people in the area in Clarke and Oconee and Northeast Georgia, we just thank them so much for their hospitality and their graciousness. It’s just wonderful. We’re spoiled. They’ve spoiled their customers.