With a visionary spirit and generous heart, Rich DeVos transformed the health care landscape of West Michigan.
DeVos, an Amway co-founder and philanthropist, died Sept. 6, 2018, at the age of 92.
His legacy touches a wide range of business and community organizations. It is particularly personal at Spectrum Health, where the programs he championed save lives and improve quality of life for patients―from the tiniest newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit to adults breathing easier with a new heart or lungs.
“With Rich’s passing, we have lost a giant in our community and a man with a heart to match,” said Tina Freese Decker, president and chief executive officer of Spectrum Health. “We will miss his compassion, his keen insight and his giving spirit.”
Devos’ dedication to Spectrum Health stretched back more than three decades. As an influential board member, benefactor and an architect of the hospital merger that created the health system, DeVos poured his heart and soul into strengthening and expanding health care services in the region.
“He will be missed,” Freese Decker said. “His inspiration and generosity will live on and will benefit our community for many generations.”
DeVos, who received a heart transplant in 1997 at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, England, worked to improve cardiac care in West Michigan.
He and his wife, Helen, provided support for the Richard DeVos Heart & Lung Transplant Program and the Meijer Heart Center. Spectrum Health surgeons performed the first heart transplant in 2010. By September 2018, the surgical team had performed 115 heart and 122 lung transplants and two heart-lung transplants.
Health care close to home
DeVos leaves a legacy that will benefit countless people through improved health care quality and access, said Richard McNamara, MD, founding co-director of the Spectrum Health Frederik Meijer Heart & Vascular Institute.
“The Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Program provides treatment close to home for some of our most vulnerable patients, whose hearts and lungs are not strong enough to function on their own,” he said. “Rich’s generosity is helping to enable advanced treatments and a better quality of life for patients in West Michigan who used to have no option close to home and family.”
Rich and Helen DeVos also helped establish the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.
And they and their children were steadfast supporters of children’s health care, helping to fund the creation of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a 14-story, 212-bed facility with more than 300 pediatric physicians and 50 specialties and programs.
“Thanks in large part to their generosity, Grand Rapids is home to a nationally recognized statewide referral and teaching center and one of only 220 children’s hospitals in the nation,” said Bob Connors, MD, the president of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“The children of West Michigan have lost a great friend and champion in the passing of Richard DeVos.”
Rich and Helen DeVos “have been at the spiritual heart of our children’s hospital from the very beginning,” said James Fahner, MD, the division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology.
He praised their major commitment to underwrite the child life program at the hospital, saying it “provides the very culture for this child-centered, family-friendly beacon of hope and healing.”
DeVos, who died 11 months after the death of his wife, Helen, was committed to providing access to high-quality health care for everyone in West Michigan, said Richard C. Breon, the former president and CEO of Spectrum Health.
“Rich once said that his role at Spectrum Health’s start and growth could be the most important thing he ever did,” Breon said. “That is because he understood the importance of excellent health care.”
DeVos had a profound and positive impact on Spectrum Health, the region and the world, Freese Decker said.
“Rich established a beautiful and incredible legacy, which will continue to impact the vitality, health and well-being of our community for generations to come,” she said. “I feel honored to have known him.”
DeVos’ work with Spectrum Health dates to 1980, when he joined the Butterworth Hospital board of trustees. In the intervening years, his contributed to a number of health care milestones:
- In 1988, the first pediatric critical care unit opened.
- In 1993, Butterworth Hospital opened the Helen DeVos Women and Children’s Center, a new 10-story center tower. A $5 million gift from Rich and Helen DeVos jumpstarted the campaign for it.
- Also in 1993, a pediatric cardiovascular surgery team was created to treat children with congenital heart defects.
- In 1997, a merger between Butterworth Health Corporation and Blodgett Memorial Medical Center created Spectrum Health. DeVos helped lead the way with the merger, convinced the combined strength of the two institutions would create a world-class hospital system.
- In 2010, the Richard DeVos Heart & Lung Institute performed its first heart transplant. Since then, the surgical team has performed 115 heart transplants and 112 lung transplants and two combined heart-lung transplants.
- In 2011, the 14-story Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital opened, thanks in part to a $50 million donation from the children of Rich and Helen DeVos.
DeVos stepped down from the Spectrum Health System board of directors in 2012, but the organization remained close to his heart. Last December, mourning the death of his wife, he attended the annual Christmas party for children that Helen had long supported at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
DeVos also played a key leadership role in the creation of Medical Mile, a health care hub that brings together physicians, researchers and educators.
It is home to Spectrum Health Medical Center, Spectrum Health Medical Group, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Van Andel Institute and Grand Valley State University.
In a 2009 interview with The Grand Rapids Press, DeVos reflected on his role in supporting his community.
“I would like to have people think I’m a life enricher,” he said. “That I’m a guy who, while I made a lot of money, I spent my life helping other people do better, helping other people accomplish their goals.”