It seems like only yesterday that I met Dr. Pat Archbold, and it is not without a pang of sadness that I must here announce that as of December 31, 2011, she will be stepping down as the director of our Hartford Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Capacity (BAGNC) Initiative housed at the American Academy of Nursing.

Six years ago I took a long walk down a dirt road with Pat Archbold and Patty Franklin, then BAGNC program manager, on the grounds of the Aspen Institute Wye River Conference Center. It was during the NIA Summer Institute nursing preconference, which was organized by Dr. Taylor Harden. I was a new program officer, Pat had recently taken over the leadership of the BAGNC Initiative, and we were brainstorming our first major effort together--a 2005 renewal of the Initiative. One couldn’t ask for a better setting for long walks and serious conversation. We were very far from our rooms when the summer sky gathered its clouds and burst. Without umbrellas or gear, without anywhere to take cover, we were drenched in an instant.

A pickup truck came rolling down the road, and Pat suggested we catch a ride. The driver kindly stopped, and we climbed into the bed of the truck. I will forever cherish the memory of sitting in the bed of that pickup truck in the pouring rain with Pat Archbold.

This incident—my first real experience with Pat and a key transformation in the nature of our relationship—taught me much. “It’s data,” as Pat would say. I learned three fundamental things about Pat Archbold that afternoon that define her as a leader who was able to take the BAGNC Initiative to the next level.

First, Pat can strategically think on her feet (in the pouring rain, no less). She has the unique ability to maintain, and even project, calmness in the face of adversity. During the past six years she has overseen multiple staff changes. She has worked with at least three American Academy of Nursing CEOs and managed many BAGNC staff transitions, including fellow hitchhiker Patty Franklin, who left in 2010.

Moreover, I have repeatedly rained on Pat’s programmatic parade, challenging her to respond to environmental changes on an ongoing basis. Throughout, she has maintained an even keel while coming up with sound solutions. This was especially evident when Pat was forced after the 2008 market downturn to redefine the scope of the BAGNC Initiative to compensate for reduced resources. Pat approached this exercise in a fair manner, preserving the Initiative’s mission to produce gero expert nurse faculty.

Second, not only can Pat think on her feet, she is able to assess a situation, inventory her resources, and marshall her strengths to achieve a desired goal. On her watch, Pat has grown the BAGNC program to 142 pre-doctoral scholars and 93 Claire M. Fagin post-doctoral fellows in geriatric nursing. These BAGNC champions, in turn, have taught close to 33,000 nursing students, received over $74 million in new funding, and published more than 1,300 articles on the care of older adults. BAGNC alumni are assuming national leadership positions via programs such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars and Atlantic Philanthropy-funded Health and Aging Policy Fellows, as well.

Pat has parlayed this strength—a cadre of gero nursing experts—into a thriving BAGNC alumni network together with BAGNC alum Adriana Perez. The BAGNC alumni have accomplished much and make the Hartford Foundation prouder every day. Many of these victories are chronicled in a special July 2011 issue of Nursing Outlook focused on the Hartford Geriatric Nursing Initiative, for which Pat served as a guest editor.

After inventorying these accomplishments, Pat has used this data to engage new partners, including the Jonas Center of Nursing Excellence and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, who in 2008 created a Reynolds Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence modeled after the nine Hartford Centers at the University of Oklahoma under the leadership of BAGNC alum Dr. Lazelle Benefield.

Finally, Pat is not afraid to get her hands dirty and to work for the good of the team. When it began to pour, Pat did not hesitate—she negotiated with the driver and jumped in the back of the truck. Because of Pat, we got back to the conference center. Like all great leaders, Pat has an infectious ability to make folks around her do good things. She inspires people to help, to be part of a team, to achieve a mutually agreed upon goal. The biggest indicator of this is a recent effort mounted by the nine Hartford Centers of Geriatric Nursing Excellence and our sister center at the University of Oklahoma. Together, with Pat’s guidance, the centers are creating one collaborative center, using their collective strengths and academic best practices to advance geriatric nursing. This is no small feat. Traditionally, academic institutions compete for all manner of resources, be it funding, students, faculty, etc. Since her inception as BAGNC director, Pat has set a tone that the centers are in this together working towards a shared vision.

I share this story and this data as evidence of Pat’s influence. She has advanced geriatric nursing and changed the lives of scores of scholars, fellows, mentors, center directors, nurse leaders, Foundation staff, and of course, me. She will be greatly missed, but her legacy will live on and result in better health care for older Americans.

And as we say goodbye to Pat, we welcome our NIA summer preconference partner, Dr. Taylor Harden, as our newest BAGNC director. Six years ago, Pat found us a ride in the rain back to Dr. Harden’s preconference in Aspen. Now, the road we have all traveled together has led again to Taylor Harden. How’s that for coming full circle?