Patrick and Mari McAlister

July 01, 2013

A second generation of McAlisters focuses on improving health care.

WRITTEN BY SHARI ROAN

Patrick and Mari McAlister
Patrick and Mari McAlister
When Patrick McAlister’s mother, Soni, fell ill one day in 1998, the first thing her family did was call for an ambulance, which they knew would take her to the nearest hospital in Los Angeles. The second thing they did was discuss how to get Soni transferred from that hospital to Saint John’s Health Center.

“From the second she got into the ambulance, we were already figuring out a way to get her to Saint John’s,” says Patrick McAlister. “My parents were diehard Saint John’s fans.”

Saint John’s Health Center has woven in and out of the lives of three generations of McAlisters. McAlister babies were born here. Family members were treated here.

But the relationship is truly a two-way street. The McAlisters, through the family’s charitable foundation, have been instrumental in key developments to the Health Center’s facilities and programs. The family’s support dates back to 1966 and continues today through the work of Patrick, 50, a member of Saint John’s Health Center Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Mari, 48.

It all began with Patrick’s parents, Hobart and Soni, both of whom are now deceased. The couple lived for many years in Beverly Hills, and their first child, Michael, was born in a small hospital that was closed long ago.

Hobart
Hobart and Soni McAlister
In 1963, Patrick was born at Saint John’s. Soni and Hobart became close friends with the obstetrician who cared for Soni, Blake H. Watson, MD. Dr. Watson was the founding chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Saint John’s and was continually searching for ways to improve maternal and infant care. “My parents ended up getting involved with Saint John’s through their relationship with Blake Watson,” Patrick says. Hobart was the son of Harold McAlister, who founded the Harold McAlister Charitable Foundation in 1959. The Los Angeles-based organization, which Patrick now directs, focuses on education and health care and gives to about 35 organizations.

“The foundation of every city is education and health care,” says Patrick. These things are vital in every community. They are vital to the worth and well-being of the people in those communities. When you give to those types of organizations your money is well spent.”

Hobart and Soni also developed a close relationship with Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka, SCL. “I think what drew them to Saint John’s, in part, was that she is a warm and inviting person,” Patrick says. “She is easy to get to know and very welcoming.”

The McAlister family has frequently targeted their gifts to Saint John’s maternal and infant health and women’s health needs. A 1982 gift through the foundation established the Blake Watson nursery. In 1997, a multi-year grant from the foundation was targeted to the fourth-floor Women’s Health Center. The center now bears the family’s name. More recently, the McAlisters awarded a grant to the hospital for a nurse health educator in the Women’s Health Center.

Continuing his parents’ devotion to Saint John’s comes naturally, says Patrick, who, in 1988, had an extended stay at the hospital for treatment of severe injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.

“I couldn’t have been better taken care of,” he says. “When you walk into Saint John’s, you feel welcome. You feel like you’re going to be well taken care of. You get a small-town, personal feel when you deal with the people there.”

Mari has also personally experienced the Saint John’s brand of care, giving birth there to both of the couple’s daughters – Megan, now 20, and Lauren, now 19.

“It was just perfect,” says Mari of her daughters’ births. “Everybody was so lovely. It’s such a wonderful, warm hospital.”

While women’s health has been a focus of the family’s giving, the family has also provided grants to sponsor fellows at the John Wayne Cancer Institute. The money supports the education of a fellow for the entire training period.

The couple takes time to study each of the areas that receive foundation grants and follows up to see how the donation is used. The grants to the fellowship program pay dividends to society, Patrick says. “I think 80% to 90% of the fellows end up being educators themselves.”

Being part of the Saint John’s family has its lighthearted moments, too. The couple enjoys the annual Caritas Gala and the Chautauqua retreat. “Chautauqua is a fun couple of nights, and it’s very informative,” Patrick says. “You get to learn about a lot of subjects.”

And in the hands of this generous, thoughtful couple, that knowledge is sure to be put to good use.