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Dan Chambers Jr., former CEO of Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, dies at 84

Dan Chambers Jr. was on the golf course doing what he loved most when the heart attack hit.

The 60-year-old administrator at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point was rushed to his own emergency room. A young cardiologist, the one Mr. Chambers had called "a crazy kid" who kept pestering him about building a heart catheterization lab, was on duty.

Fresh out of residency in New York City, 30-year-old Dr. Rao Musunuru gave Mr. Chambers an experimental clot-busting drug that day in 1985.

It saved his life.

The close call forged a partnership between the two men that led to Pasco County eventually becoming home to one of the nation's premier heart care centers.

Mr. Chambers, the hospital's first chief executive officer and the one who persuaded state officials to allow a heart specialty unit in a then-rural county, died Friday morning (Aug. 27, 2010) in Pennsylvania, where he had moved about a year ago to be near family. He was 84.

"He was like a larger-than-life kind of man," said Rebecca Medley, one of his four children. "We adored him. My brother-in-law said he had a 'gratitude attitude.' He never had a bad day in his life."

With a West Virginia twang, a 6-foot-2-inch frame, the larger-than-life description was echoed by others who knew him.

"He was a pioneer in Pasco County," said County Commissioner Michael Cox, whose mother worked with Mr. Chambers' wife, Margaret, in the county food stamp office. "Whenever there was something that needed to be done, you'd better get out of his way, whether that was doing a program for underprivileged kids or literally building a hospital because the area needed a hospital."

Mr. Chambers came to Florida after earning degrees in banking from West Virginia University and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

He worked as a banker in south Florida and moved to Pasco in the early 1970s, where he was president of People's State Bank in New Port Richey.

In 1973, Gov. Reubin Askew tapped him to fill a county commission seat after Henry Strauber died in office.

A Democrat, Mr. Chambers served about a year and declined to run for the seat in the election.

"He said, 'I think you're crazy. I'd never run for that job,' " Cox recalled Mr. Chambers saying years later, when Cox sought a spot on the commission.

Mr. Chambers described county government back then as "being like the Wild West" and said the first thing staffers wanted to do was issue him a county radio for his car.

Mr. Chambers resigned from the bank to take a job as an assistant administrator at Community Hospital in New Port Richey. His wife, who died about six years ago, also worked there as director of volunteers. He later was promoted to head the sister hospital at Bayonet Point.

That was where he made his mark in getting the state to grant permission for the heart institute.

"He applied for (permission) his first day back to work after the heart attack," said Musunuru, who had told him of having to send patients to Tampa.

The state rejected the bid, Musunuru said, and the hospital won on appeal.

"We developed a real mutual respect for one another," he said.

After an unsuccessful run for state House of Representatives, Mr. Chambers retired in 1987, having laid the groundwork for the heart institute that would open two years later.

"Many people in West Pasco, including former administrator Dan Chambers, worked long and hard in the attempt to convince the state of Florida that we were deserving of the certificate of need," resident Al Meyer wrote in a letter to the St. Petersburg Times in 1990. "I'm quite sure that the majority of residents don't realize the tremendous impact that this had when it was finally awarded to us."

Mr. Chambers continued to live in Pasco, where he golfed, painted and served on his homeowners association. He also remained active in his church, First United Methodist of Hudson. At the hospital, he helped start a support group for patients with cardiac defibrillators.

Last year, Bayonet Point's heart institute celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Mr. Chambers was there. And the crazy kid who saved his life about a quarter century earlier gave him an award that day.

"Dan is a well-loved and respected icon at this hospital," said Steve Rector, Bayonet Point's current chief executive officer. He said Mr. Chambers laid the foundation for "the outstanding success we continue to enjoy today."

Mr. Chambers is survived by four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Arrangements are being handled by Joseph A. Fluehr III Funeral Home, New Britain, Pa.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Rao Musunuru M.D. CARES Enrichment Center, 12417 Clock Tower Parkway, Hudson, FL 34667.

Dan Chambers Jr., former CEO of Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, dies at 84 08/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 27, 2010 8:25pm]
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