In Memory of Rheba de Tornyay, EdD, RN, FAAN

rheba-tornyay-bwIt is with sadness that I report our nursing editor community has lost another visionary leader. Rheba de Tornyay, Editor of the Journal of Nursing Education  from 1983-1990, and Editor Emeritus in the years since, died in Seattle, Washington on September 27, 2013. She was 87.

Dean Emeritus at the University of Washington, Rheba is described in their memorial as:

Dean, educator, innovator, trailblazer, mentor, collaborative colleague, friend, inspirational leader…all these were facets of a career whose focal point and touchstone was the University of Washington School of Nursing, where she served as dean from 1975 to 1986 and as a faculty member until 1996.

From the American Academy of Nursing, where Rheba was a founding member, first president, and living legend:

A pre-eminent educator, Rheba served as editor of the Journal of Nursing Education and was a member of the American Nurses Association’s Commission on Nursing Education. Additionally, Rheba served in leadership roles on a number of national boards and councils, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Board of Trustees, the Harborview Medical Center Board of Trustees, and chairing the board for the UW Retirement Association’s Wallingford Retirement Center.

Judy Huntington, Executive Director of the Washington State Nurses’ Association writes:

The many tributes to follow will speak to her amazing and significant accomplishments on behalf of the profession. But I also want you to know about a more personal side of Rheba and how she was not only such a life-long advocate for social justice, human rights and the quintessential nurse advocate, but how she always kept an open-minded attitude to change and to new information. And how she was a champion patient advocate right up to the very end of her life.

Acclaimed author, Richard Rosenthal, a life-long personal friend of Rheba, wrote an op-ed in The East Hampton Star just last month entitled Rheba Tries Pot.  It’s worth reading for several reasons not the least of which is that it is a beautiful tribute to their life-long friendship and testimony to her incredible spirit and advocacy for nurses and patients.   But it is also about how her perspective changed about the use of medical marijuana.  After the op-ed article appeared, Rheba somehow found the energy to write a letter to the editor on September 20th – just 7 days before she passed away.

Richard truly captured Rheba’s essence!  I saw that side of her so many times over the years — whether she was debating and battling physicians in their opposition to the expanding role of advanced practice nurses or was standing alongside our WSNA nurses as we fought for fairness in the workplace or as she testified in the legislature on behalf of nursing practice or health reform legislation….I was so privileged to have experienced Rheba as my graduate school dean, my mentor, association colleague and friend for more than four decades. She was such a great personal inspiration to me. I loved her intelligence, her vision, her unbreakable determination and spirit, as well as her wit and sense of humor, and so much more……Nursing has truly lost another treasured icon and hero of health care!  Those of us who were privileged to know her and serve with her shall be forever changed for better for that experience and I am truly grateful to be among them.

Janis Bellack, present Editor of the Journal of Nursing Education is writing an editorial for the January 2014 issue on Remembering Rheba. I will update this post with a link when it is published.

The University of Washington School of Nursing is hosting a memorial service on Sunday, October 13. Those wishing to learn more should contact the directly. Also from the University:

Rheba has requested that memorial gifts in her honor be directed to the de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging fund at the UW School of Nursing to help continue and strengthen this important work. Please call 206-543-3019 if you have any questions about how to donate, or send your check to the University of Washington School of Nursing, attn. Glory Visario, Box 357260, Seattle, WA 98195.

Donations can also be made to the Rheba de Tornyay Development Fund at the American Academy of Nursing. Renamed last year in her honor, the Academy writes:

Rheba de Tornyay has dedicated her life to promoting research, training, and services for the healthy aging of adults while advancing the nursing profession. The Academy can think of no better way to honor her and her legacy.

Although I did not know Dr. de Tornyay personally, I know her leadership and vision has made our profession stronger, which benefits of all of us. I send my deepest sympathies to her family, friends, and the many, many professional colleagues whose lives she touched.

1 thought on “In Memory of Rheba de Tornyay, EdD, RN, FAAN

  1. I want to thank Judy Huntington for her kind words about my article in the East Hampton Star and for her perceptions about Rheba as a human being. Rheba was warm, brilliant and wonderful to argue with, which is precisely what a good academic must be. Please do not bleach her.

    Richard Rosenthal

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