On Friday, March 10, the Santa Barbara community lost a consummate nursing professional, Alicia Kelley-Leger. She was the entire package: An administrator who attended countless meetings, oversaw budgets, and supervised hundreds of nurses at Cottage Health System, Alicia also sat by patients’ bedsides, holding hands and offering words of comfort. We will miss Alicia on so many levels — as a leader, colleague, and, most of all, warm and loving friend.
A Nurse of the Highest Calling Of all the titles Alicia held in her life — wife, sister, daughter, godmother, aunt, and friend — the title Registered Nurse defined the core of her personality and was evident in her compassion and huge heart. To Alicia, as is true for many of us, nursing was not just a good job; it was a calling. When asked why she was so passionate about nursing, Alicia had many experiences and stories from which to choose, but she always chose this one: As a new nurse working in labor and delivery in a small hospital in Northern California, Alicia was caring for two laboring mothers on the same night. One mother delivered a healthy baby, while in the next room the other mother delivered a stillborn. Each was unaware of the other. As Alicia went back and forth between the rooms, she celebrated with tears of joy and laughter with one family, and consoled and cried tears of sadness with the other family. As Alicia stood in the hall between the two rooms, she suddenly realized what a gift and blessing she had been given to be allowed to participate in such significant human events, ones that a family will maintain for a lifetime. This sense of being blessed — of being called to the profession of nursing — shaped and defined her life, her relationships, and her career path. Year after year, newly hired nurses heard Alicia, their chief nursing officer at Cottage, speak from her heart about the impact a nurse has on the lives of patients and families. This always moved and inspired them as they began their own careers. Those of us privileged to work with Alicia in either a staff or management position were constantly challenged and encouraged to be the best nurses we could be and to pass on her legacy expressed so simply: “Be heroes — do good work and be nice to each other!” — Sherrie Grimes and Donna Yacobian
A Friend Beyond Comparison Although I knew Alicia for almost half my life, it is not the longevity but the quality of our friendship that I most cherish. She was always available and lent her assistance in every possible way. When my mother required surgery, Alicia took the handrail of her gurney, walking and talking with her until they reached the operating room doors. With the unfortunate passing of my father-in-law, she remained with us in the intensive care unit until the very last moment. Alicia took the time to share in my oldest daughter’s high school graduation celebration. And she was right there with me for my youngest daughter’s birth. She brought apples and cheese to help pass the time. I remember saying, “I do not want your apples and cheese! Just find me that darn doctor with the drugs!” And she did — I don’t even think it was because I was choking her by the shirt collar. Now that is a true friend. There is a small group of girlfriends who gather on my deck at home. We laugh, cry, and encourage each other no matter how small or large the issue; we celebrate even the smallest feat. We just email each other, “Deck night?” Alicia never missed an invitation. Deck night will continue and we’ll just pull up her chair. To others it will appear to be empty, but we will always know where she is sitting. AK, I love you and you will always be my best friend. See ya on the deck! — Catherine Monclus
Alicia Kelley-Leger died in an auto accident in Goleta on Friday, March 10. Her memorial service on Friday, March 17 was attended by about 1,000 people, including legislators, doctors, nurses, Cottage staff, family, and friends.