Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox celebrates Ruth Colby’s life and legacy

Michael Mutterer, Silver Cross interim president and CEO: ‘Her touch was large, for sure’

Silver Cross leadership, staff and the greater community gathered at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, to celebrate Ruth Colby's life and legacy. Colby, Silver Cross' president and chief executive officer, died Oct. 15 from surgical complications. She was 69.

Jackie Bowman, a registered nurse at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, knows the hospital will succeed without Ruth Colby.

“She was all about building up people,” Bowman said.

Colby, Silver Cross president and CEO since 2017, died Oct. 15 “at a Chicago academic medical center from complications following a surgical procedure,” according to Silver Cross.

Colby was 69.

To commemorate Colby’s life and legacy, which Colby forged through her leadership and many strategic partnerships, Silver Cross held an open house celebration on its campus Friday and Saturday.

Bowman, who knew Colby through Bowman’s entire 16-year career at Silver Cross, said Colby often asked about her four children. She said Colby once shared an article with her that CEOs should measure their lives by the people whose lives they’ve influenced, especially when employees were having a bad day.

“She made you want to come to work,” Bowman said. “She made you want to have the better day.”

Johnny Clayton from environmental services at Silver Cross said Colby found her employees’ weakness and then, “with a smile and encouragement,” motivated them to conquer it.

Clayton’s weakness was speaking in front of people. So Colby asked him to speak to the leadership and then waited after the event “to tell me I did a good job,” Clayton said.

“She respected each person and addressed you by your name and made it very personal. That’s very rare,” Clayton said. “And she came to every orientation to meet every new-hire.”

Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow said Colby was a powerful force in Will County yet extremely positive and “easy to work with.”

“I mean, we never had a mental health facility in Will County,” Glasgow said. “I spoke with her, turned around and it was done.”

Lisa Morel Las, executive director of the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center, said Colby served on the center’s board of directors because she asked to serve.

An employee signs a tribute wall for Ruth Colby, former president and chief executive officer of Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Silver Cross held a celebration on Friday and Saturday to honor Colby's life and legacy.

“She was always humble, thoughtful and kind in that she just went out of her way to listen,” Morel Las said. “You’d never know in a room she was the CEO [of Silver Cross].”

Ines Kutlesa, CEO of Guardian Angel Community Services in Joliet, said she appreciated Colby’s medical advocacy for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

“Her leadership was very important to us and an integral part of our mission,” Kutlesa said.

Kathy Miller, vice chair of the Silver Cross Foundation board, said Colby was a “dynamic leader and wonderful mentor.”

Craig Lyons, chairman of the Silver Cross Foundation board, agreed.

“You go through your business career and meet all kinds of people,” Lyons said. “I was honored to be around her.”

Michael Mutterer, interim president and CEO at Silver Cross, said he’s “super humbled” to be functioning in her interim role and was awed at the many people she influenced on the local, state and regional levels.

“Her touch was large, for sure,” Mutterer said.

Ruth Colby was chair-elect of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA); she would have taken over as chair in January 2024. Pictured at Colby's memorial on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, at Silver Cross are, from left, are A.J. Wilhelmi, IHA president and CEO; J.P. Gallagher, chair of the IHA board of directors and president and CEO, NorthShore University HealthSystem; Michael Mutterer, interim Silver Cross Hospital president and CEO; and Scott Paddock, Silver Cross senior vice president of external affairs.

Scott Paddock, senior vice president of external affairs at Silver Cross, said, “The outpouring of this community clearly reinforces for us just how many lives she impacted in our Silver Cross community.

“In moments like this, it’s very therapeutic.”

Donald M. DeFrank, who married Colby in 2006, said Colby often took phone calls late at night because someone was worried about a relative who was just admitted.

But Colby was so much more than her leadership roles at Silver Cross and the greater community.

“She was a wonderful wife,” DeFrank said.

What made Colby an effective leader

When Colby received the ATHENA Award from the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Council for Working Women, she talked to The Herald-News in length about the experiences that shaped her leadership.

• “I remember them for their kindness, for service above self and for being extraordinary mentors to me,” Colby said about the nuns at Holy Trinity School for the Deaf on Taylor Street in Chicago, where Colby once taught. “They defined ‘work ethic’ and what it means to be humble – foundational values that have stayed with me for the past 40 years.”

• “You come out to a restaurant to have a good time, and you want to make that experience positive for people,” said Colby, a former waitress. “People don’t come to the hospital to have a good time, but we want to make that experience positive.”

• “It was one cold night in December when the program I wrote shut down the presses for the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue. I still shudder when I recall the memory,” Colby said when recalling an error she made while working at RR Donnelley and Sons. “But the words of my boss remain with me today: ‘It’s what you do after you make a mistake that really matters.’ He stayed with me all night until I corrected my error.”

• “I learned all about business from RR Donnelly, but I knew nothing about finance,” Colby said regarding why she decided to enroll in a Master of Business Administration program with a specialization in finance at the University of Chicago. “So I challenged myself to major in finance and found out I had a reasonably good head for numbers and how businesses work.”

• “When something wasn’t done exactly right, we sit down and try to understand it rather than blame,” Colby said about the attitude she tried to project at Silver Cross. “Maybe the person wasn’t educated well or have the right processes in place. We always look at how we can improve so it won’t happen again.”

• “They come to work every day, and many of them put themselves at risk,” Colby said about her staff during the height of the pandemic. “They take care of very, very sick people and come back tomorrow and the next day, and they do the same thing.”

• “I love being a part of this community,” Colby said about Will County. “It’s been life-changing, and I feel very fortunate.”