Roy Exum: Bob Main Siskin’s Blessing

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It was supposed to be Bob Main’s night, a glorious but impossibly inadequate “thank you” to the wizard who literally created our Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation from scratch in this last quarter of a century. But – no – in his habitual way of focusing the spotlight on others, he had one last delightful surprise before finally turning the helm over to new CEO Carol Sim.

As a huge crowd was gathered in The Chattanoogan Hotel’s ballroom on Friday night, it was revealed Main’s love and passion for Siskin Hospital’s mission will never go away. He and his wife Cleta have just endowed a scholarship at UT-Chattanooga for a physically-disabled recipient but why is it that no one in the delighted audience was surprised? Bob Main has forever done more than anyone can imagine.

When the ever-enthusiastic New York native was first brought to Chattanooga by legendary visionaries Merv Pregulman and Dr. David McCallie 26 years ago, the hospital was no more than a dream. The only desk was a piece of plywood on sawhorses and he even had to furnish his own chair. But as the word “excellence” was the most used throughout the evening, Main was finally saluted and praised for the countless lives that he and his dedicated staff now save in an almost routine manner.

Before the deeply-touching scholarship was announced, the highlight of the evening was thought to be that the American College of Healthcare Executives was going to bestow a Lifetime Achievement Regent’s Award on the deserving hospital chief. Main has had repeated offers from deep-pocketed suitors since those in the industry have learned what he has done but the only job that has ever tempted him was – of all things -- working as a herdsman during Dr. Phil Burns’ annual cattle sale one hysterical weekend a year.

Dr. Burns, the chief of surgery at Erlanger Hospital, is recognized as one of the top cattlemen in the country and, in an entertaining tribute to his close friend, regaled the audience as he revealed Bob is so good with the bulls that the Burns family has named the biggest gate on their beautiful farm in honor of the Siskin executive. “We’re so proud of our Main gate,” he deadpanned.

Earlier Bob Best, the board chairman of the widely-acclaimed rehabilitation center, gave a dizzying description of Bob’s accomplishments, citing the Brain Injury unit, the Stroke unit, the Lymphedema program and – no pun intended -- the Balance and Dizziness unit. “Under Bob’s vision and leadership, we have developed specialized services and programs that have never been in Chattanooga or any other cities of this size.

“What started as a dream he made into a reality,” Best told of the early days and of how Main’s intense interest in excellence is so vividly reflected by the bustling staff in every area. “He has a fondness for people who work hard,” Best said, “and as a great teacher and mentor, he takes warm pride in the fact we have so many employees who will carry on his traditions.”

Erlanger Hospital’s Robert Brooks, praising the close association the two medical centers enjoy, presented the prestigious award from the hospital executives, an honor that was spurred by Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel, a delegate with the group. Brooks, who has just come to Chattanooga to be part of the Erlanger team as chief operating officer, marveled at Main’s accomplishments and, as a longtime student of hospital administration, said the evening’s accolades “were well-earned indeed.”

Cindy Sexton, the “ageless” WRCB television personality who is a longtime observer of this city, said that in her years of experience it was hard to fathom how Bob found the time to volunteer with so many organizations. “He is flawless in running Siskin but, my gosh, he lends so much to organizations like Friends of the Festival, Hospice, Alexian Brothers, Rotary and dozens of others that you’d think he had two or even three fulltime jobs.

“I’ve never seen Bob confronted with a challenge or a request when he didn’t say, ‘Let’s try,’” the popular TV anchor said during dinner. “He’s been such a great credit to not just the hospital but to the entire community.”

Main’s presence was instrumental in the recent acquisition of the next-door St. Barnabas, which will nearly double the number of rehabilitation beds and greatly enhance the Siskin campus off Third Street. “This is a huge step towards our mission,” said board chairman Best, “and Carol Sim already realizes what a tremendous legacy Bob Main will leave for future generations. He is certainly one-of-a-kind and no one will ever forget what he has done for the people of Chattanooga.”

Cleta and Bob will continue to live in the Chattanooga area and he will continue to herd Burns Farm’s bulls with a special stick. “I have my own stick,” he proudly announced to the audience, “and as I leave the greatest job I could have ever dreamed, I am a very happy herdsman.”

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