Obituaries

Timothy F. Gens, 69, who helped shape health care reform

Mr. Gens insisted “on protecting that new health care framework for our state and our country,” Senator Ed Markey said.
Mr. Gens insisted “on protecting that new health care framework for our state and our country,” Senator Ed Markey said.

Among the talents Tim Gens brought to the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association was the ability to explain the inexplicable — whether he was speaking with lawmakers, policymakers, or those puzzled by complicated legislation.

That came in handy when the organization he served as general counsel played a key role in the successful effort to extend health care coverage to many of the Commonwealth’s uninsured.

“He was a policy and political genius,” said US Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. “He knew how to take complex issues and reduce them down and make them accessible for anyone in the room, for anyone in our state, and anyone in our country to understand.”

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Mr. Gens, who stepped down as executive vice president of the association after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor, was 69 when he died Sept. 10 in his Weston home.

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“Compassion requires us to improve access to primary care for all,” he wrote in a 2007 article published in the journal The Hospitalist.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association called Mr. Gens “the heart and soul” of the organization when he stepped down in December.

“Every major Massachusetts health care development over the past two decades bore the imprint of Gens’s leadership and influence in one manner or another, from the state’s efforts to expand coverage and reshape payment infrastructures, to advances in transparent public reporting of health care outcomes, and the development of nationally recognized patient safety improvements,” the association said in a statement.

At the association’s annual meeting in June, Governor Charlie Baker presented Mr. Gens with the annual Stephen J. Hegarty Memorial Award, named for a former president of the organization. “I’m here because I really wanted to be able to look at you and say God bless you for all you’ve done because you’ve made a big difference,” Baker told Mr. Gens at the ceremony.

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Markey said that Mr. Gens, with whom he had been friends for 40 years, insisted “on protecting that new health care framework for our state and our country. For that, I think, millions of people in our state and hundreds of millions of people in our country will be forever grateful.”

Mr. Gens “was extremely knowledgeable about our industry,” particularly its impact on the state, said Kate Walsh, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center and former board chair of the hospital association.

While continuing to serve as the organization’s general counsel and executive vice president after his diagnosis, “There was a generosity of spirit that struck me at what was obviously a difficult time in his life,” Walsh said.

“He had an easy affability,” Markey recalled. “He knew how to bring people together, to do it in a way in which reconciliation of difficult issues was made much more likely because of his presence in the room. That helped to resolve many issues over the years that are almost impossible to put in a litany.”

The second of five siblings, Timothy Francis Gens was a son of the former Winifred Doyle, who had been a biologist at Boston City Hospital, and Francis Gens, a longtime city official who had served as commissioner of the Boston Housing and Inspection Department.

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Entering high school, Mr. Gens began his path to becoming a triple Eagle — a graduate of Boston College High School, Boston College, and Boston College Law School.

As a teenager and a good football player, he already was exhibiting leadership qualities that would define his working life, but “Tim never felt like he was anyone particularly special,” his brother Frank of Lexington said.

His brother’s colleagues, he added, noted that Mr. Gens “was the first to push credit to others, and the first to accept responsibility when things didn’t go well.”

Frank said his brother also was the first to put everyone at ease. “No one cracked more one-liners and corny jokes than Tim,” he said in a eulogy, adding that “no situation that was too serious for a tension-breaking joke — in fact, the greater the tension, the more likely Tim would lower the temperature by cracking everyone up.”

Mr. Gens graduated from high school in 1967, from Boston College in 1971 with a double major in political science and philosophy, and from law school in 1975.

“Philosophy obviously was a big part of what made him tick,” Frank said. “His friends would often shake their heads at Tim’s obsession with books.”

Indeed, about a year into his cancer diagnosis, Mr. Gens and his wife, Madeleine, met with a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute social worker, who suggested the time had arrived to think about getting his affairs in order. The social worker meant wills and financial paperwork. Mr. Gens had another idea.

“He took out a leather-bound notebook and started writing down the 100 or so books he had enjoyed most and recommended that we, his friends, read,” Frank said in a eulogy.

At the wake, the family made available copies of the list, to which Mr. Gens in some instance had added comments as he suggested novels and nonfiction, poetry, and plays.

Of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” Mr. Gens quipped: “I don’t fish, but this book made me wish I did.” Of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” he wrote: “We should never forget what evil looks like so that we will be prepared to resist it.”

Before spending 23 years with the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, Mr. Gens had been head of communications for the MBTA, for which he also had, at various times, directed policy and intergovernmental affairs and served as general counsel. At the outset of his career, he was a political consultant, and he got an early start in the field as a driver for US Senator Edward M. Kennedy during the 1970 campaign.

In 1985, Mr. Gens married Madeleine Fox, whom he had met on Martha’s Vineyard. They had two daughters — Jamie Langley of Edgartown and Kathleen of Boston — along with a son, Dylan, of Boston.

“Tim’s most important accomplishment,” Frank said in his eulogy, “was as a devoted husband, father, and grandfather.”

In addition to his wife, three children, and brother, Mr. Gens leaves two sisters, Marylou Greene and Lisa, both of Jamaica Plain; another brother, Philip of Jamaica Plain; and three grandchildren.

“His legacy is that when you’re talking about health care in Massachusetts, you’re talking about Tim Gens and his daily, weekly, yearly commitment to making sure it was improved — not just for the wealthy, but for everyone in our state,” Markey said.

The generosity of spirit that colleagues saw in Mr. Gens was present in his personal life, too. In June 1976, the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns were tied in the NBA Finals. Mr. Gens had two tickets for Game 5, which he gave to Frank and a friend to let them enjoy the night.

The game became legendary when the Celtics won, 128-126, in triple overtime. Mr. Gens shrugged off missing out.

“He gave away his ticket to one of the best games of all time, and he never complained about it at all,” Frank recalled. “He never said, ‘You owe me, guys.’ That was classic Tim.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard @globe.com.