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Celebrating 40 Years: Meet The Rev. Q. Gerald Roseberry

Reverend Q. Gerald Roseberry

By Beverly Medlyn
Communications Director

Hospice of the Valley originated serendipitiously – or in theological terms, providentially.

Looking back, some might even call it a “hot” idea.

The Rev. Q. Gerald Roseberry was sitting in a sauna-like “sweat box” testing an antiperspirant for Armour-Dial in the summer of 1976. He and parishioners from his church were engaging in product testing to raise money for the church’s youth group to travel to Alaska.

For diversion from the long, boring, sweaty wait, Roseberry picked up a copy of “Reader’s Digest” and his eye fell on an article about the work of Hospice, Inc., of New Haven, Conn. – the first hospice in the U.S. The story described the Connecticut hospice as being patterned after St. Christopher’s Hospice, founded in England by Cicely Saunders.

“It was an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment!” he recalled.

Roseberry had been thinking of ways to help people on their journey through “the Valley of the shadow of death.” Others in the community also were seeking new ways to care for the dying – shifting from curing to healing, from treatment to comfort.

Roseberry brought the like-thinkers together for a series of meetings in late 1976 and 1977 that culminated with the incorporation of “Valley of the Sun Hospice Association” on Sept. 9, 1977. The name was a double-play on the Biblical term and Phoenix’s nickname, but it proved cumbersome and was soon shortened to “Hospice of the Valley.”

With a $15,000 grant from the Flinn Foundation, the not-for-profit agency opened an office in rent-free space at a county health department storefront. A secretary-bookkeeper was hired first, then a volunteer coordinator. Mainly the organization was supported by volunteers. Roseberry, then pastor of the Camelback United Presbyterian Church, was president of the board.

HOV’s early years were strained by lack of money, internal dissension and leadership turnover, Roseberry said. The hospice concept also drew resistance from some local physicians who viewed it as “passive euthanasia.” Roseberry credits Dr. Albert Eckstein, HOV’s first medical director and “dean of the medical community,” and Dr. Jim Callison, who served on HOV’s board, for educating community physicians that hospice could help them provide better care for their patients.

In 1983 Medicare made hospice a Medicare benefit, providing a secure revenue stream for patient care. That year Joan Lowell joined HOV as executive director, offering stable leadership for the next decade. The core cadre of first nurses – Mary Audrey Mellor, Blanche Hopkins, Jean Marie (Huls) Stockton and Nicky Rachin – solidified and trained the troops.

By the end of 1983, Roseberry felt comfortable leaving HOV in good hands to move on to other causes near and dear to his heart. He became a clergy leader of the Sanctuary movement, sheltering Central American refugees. Next he worked for five years for the homeless – including living a month as a homeless person just to see what it was like. All the while he continued serving as a pastor.

In the 1980s, Roseberry divorced and subsequently remarried. Vada and he were married 22 years – travelling and enjoying their retirement. In 2010 she became ill with cancer and died two years later at Hospice of the Valley’s Ryan House.

Roseberry subsequently moved from the couple’s downtown historic home to Beatitudes Campus of Care in north central Phoenix – the place where HOV’s original Articles of Incorporation were signed. At 84, he volunteers weekly at Ryan House, helping sort supplies, making breakfast, chatting with families and communing with Vada’s spirit.

Roseberry’s current cause is environmentalism. He led an effort to bring recycling to the Beatitudes campus. He also directs Elders for a Sustainable Future, which plans campus projects. He went to Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project events in 2013 and 2014.

“Once an activist, always an activist,” said Roseberry.