Obituary: Jack Robinette / Leader of Hospital Council for 20 years called 'visionary'

Oct. 26 1930 - Nov. 17, 2013

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In a tribute booklet presented to Jack Robinette at his retirement party in 1995 is a baby picture with the caption: "A leader is born."

More than 500 people from all over the country sent video tributes or came in person to the Omni William Penn reception to honor Mr. Robinette for his 20 years as director of the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania.

"His style was like an iron fist in a velvet glove," said Lynne Rackley, who chaired one of the organization's committees, in his tribute. "We didn't realize we had been led until we had already arrived at our destination."

The date was Nov. 17, 1995, exactly 18 years before he died at Vincentian Home at age 83.

Mr. Robinette was born Oct. 26, 1930, in a small mining town in Kentucky. His father was a coal miner, and the family lived in a mining camp until they moved to West Virginia in 1943. There, Mr. Robinette made friends with a neighbor boy and his younger sister, Ruth Cope, who would later become his wife. They had two sons, Michael, who died in 2004, and Scott.

The family moved to Pittsburgh in 1975, when Mr. Robinette took the helm at the Hospital Council.

"He was visionary in looking at healthcare as a continuum," said Pat Raffaele, vice president of professional services at Hospital Council, who was hired under Mr. Robinette's leadership. "He was talking about community health and wellness back in the early '80s. Back then it was sort of odd -- community health, what's that? Today, hospitals are all about that."

Mr. Robinette shepherded the organization through a significant growing period. Its staff increased from 12 to more than 150 employees. Its reach had spread from just the Pittsburgh metropolitan area to 30 counties. The council created a bulk purchasing arm for the region's hospitals, which eventually spun off into a large and successful standalone company, AmeriNet.

"If I can be anything like the leader that he was, I would be so happy," said his son, Scott. "He seemed to have a knack for getting people to work hard and it had to do with expecting them to do well and giving them a lot of discretion and latitude."

He employed the same approach at home, with varying degrees of success -- "if you have high expectations for somebody raking the leaves, it may or may not motivate them to do it," Scott said.

When he was little, Scott remembers only one book that his father would read to him, over and over again. It was a folk song about a fox who raids a town to bring dinner to his family. Years later, Scott realized the tune his father sang wasn't the original melody but one he made up, and made his own.

When, in his last days, Mr. Robinette's condition was declining and he wafted in and out of consciousness, Scott brought out the book and sang his father's melody at his bedside. Something registered when he sang, Scott said. It was one of his last moments of recognition -- sung to his own tune.

In addition to his son, Mr. Robinette is survived by five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Arrangements were handled by T.B. Devlin Funeral Home, Ross.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.

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