Reflecting on the loss of Children’s dear friend, James G. Miles

One of the founders of Children’s – Minneapolis, James G. Miles, died earlier this week.

Ask Dr. Arnold Anderson, the hospital’s first medical director and chief executive officer, about the impact of Miles, and his answer is unequivocal:

“Without Jim Miles, Children’s Hospital would not be.”

Perhaps best known as a founder and top executive at Control Data Corp., at one time one of the leading computer companies in the world, Miles was an engineer, lawyer, inventor, entrepreneur, gubernatorial candidate and author.  Dr. Anderson would add a few more descriptions to the list: “visionary,” “genius,” “revolutionary” and “a man of principle.” But not many people know his history as founder of Minnesota’s largest children’s hospital.

After a discouraging meeting with a Chicago consultant who questioned the feasibility of building a Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Miles said to Dr. Anderson: “If you will stick with me, we will build that hospital.”

Despite opposition from local philanthropists, government officials, medical academics and the hospital community, Miles believed that children should have a hospital dedicated to their unique needs. Starting in 1967, Miles helped lead the effort to win the necessary approvals, financing and funding to build the hospital, which opened in 1973.

It wasn’t easy. Not by a long shot. At one point, construction had to be stopped due to insufficient funds, and a cyclone fence was installed around the perimeter of the site to prevent neighborhood children from falling in the giant hole that had been dug, according to Dr. Anderson. Later, during a cash crunch early in the hospital’s history, Miles pledged his entire net worth to keep the hospital going, according to a Star Tribune story about Miles in 2008.

“Miles was instrumental in creating plans for the hospital, employing innovative and cost-effective construction principles and child-friendly designs,” Dr. Anderson said. “He even had a critical role in the hospital’s budgeting and governance that enabled the hospital to remain viable despite challenging fee schedules and a commitment to serve all children regardless of their economic circumstances.”

Miles established the organization principles for Children’s that remain essential today: a worthy common purpose, a strong “esprit de corps,” competence, a loving spirit, innovation, cooperation, generosity and faith, Dr. Anderson said.

“I would say that the very spirit of Children’s is due to Jim Miles,” he said.

Jim Miles may have died earlier this week, but at Children’s his spirit lives on.

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