Coachella Valley philanthropist and Eisenhower Health supporter Sally Berger died Monday at the Eisenhower hospital campus in Rancho Mirage. She was 88.
Born Sally Eileen Diamond in Chicago on Dec. 30, 1933, Berger was a “nationally renowned health care executive with more than 25 years of planning, policy and public affairs experience on local, state and national levels in the public and private sector,” according to information released by her family.
Berger’s love of giving back was inspired at a young age by her Grandma Fanny, with whom she shared a bedroom as a child. “Grandma Fanny was the ultimate fundraiser,” said Berger’s daughter, Elizabeth. “She lived to be 101 or 102, and up until her 90s she was out there raising money. She was very involved in the Schwab Hospital in Chicago. Fanny instilled in her the virtue of giving back and being a part of the community, making a difference and helping other people. (Fanny) never sat still and was always doing things for others.”
Berger attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, and then devoted her professional career to improving the American health care system. She became one of the first female partners at Arthur Young — which eventually became Ernst & Young, a leading international professional services firm. “She was not a CPA,” Elizabeth said. “Her job was business development. She traveled around the country meeting with hospital CEOs.”
She also produced and anchored a national television program on the Health & Sciences Television Network and served as a regular contributor to “Modern Healthcare,” “Healthcare Executive” and “Trustee” magazines, among others. She also served on the editorial board of “Vim & Vigor” magazine.
Other career highlights include serving as president of the Chicago Public Library Board, serving as chairman of the National Council on Health Planning and Development and serving as chairman and CEO of Sally Berger Associates LLC, where she assisted professional organizations in business development and business development training .
Berger was also very political and ran the re-election campaign for Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley Sr.
Feature articles about Berger have appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, McCall’s, Trustee, Today’s Chicago Woman, Lear’s, Town & Country and numerous other publications.
When it came time to retire, Berger didn’t want to stop working, according to Elizabeth, so she kept busy with her various philanthropic and health care endeavors.
In 2006, Berger and her husband, Miles, bought a home in Rancho Mirage. It was around that time she was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic lymphocytic leukemia), and “even though Chicago had been her home for her entire life,” Elizabeth said, “she just loved this community, and while she was being treated at Eisenhower, she fell in love with the hospital and their 24/7 program” (a public recognition of hospital donors who make gifts of $250,000 or more). “She loved the program so much that she just kept selling and selling it to every single person she knew. And then the hospital asked her to be on all three of their boards” — the board of governors, the board of trustees and the board of directors.
“She has raised more money for Eisenhower than anyone,” said friend Jamie Kabler. “She’s responsible for helping make 24/7 this great success that it is. She just loved people. She was a big fan of mine and the (Rancho Mirage) Writers Festival. Sally was a force of nature.”
Berger will be greatly missed by those she worked with and befriended at Eisenhower.
“Sally Berger was one of the greatest forces for good and for philanthropy in Eisenhower’s history,” said Michael Landes, president of the Eisenhower Health Foundation. “What a great woman we have all come to know and love. We already miss her.”
“The word ‘philanthropy’ comes from the Greek language and means a love for humankind,” said Martin Massiello, president and chief executive officer of Eisenhower Health. “Sally was a remarkable woman who had an enormous philanthropic heart for family, neighbor and for Eisenhower Health. For me, Sally’s philanthropy was personal. What she gave me didn’t come in form of dollars and cents, but rather it came in the form of common sense — good and wise counsel. Sally was my mentor, and I will remember and treasure most what she gave me personally — love, friendship, wisdom and support.”
G. Aubrey Serfling, former president and CEO of Eisenhower Health, told The Desert Sun that Berger “was a close, personal friend, and just a force of nature in the best sense of the word. She was always ‘We can do this. We can find a way.’ Never negative. Always with a can-do attitude. And she was a very, very special person to me, personally, as well as to Eisenhower. This is a personal loss for me, a personal loss for Eisenhower and a personal loss for this community. I will really miss her.”
“Sadly, the Coachella Valley has lost a dedicated volunteer and philanthropist with Sally’s passing,” said friend Patty Newman. “Not only did she support numerous nonprofits but she was a very enthusiastic and special part of Eisenhower Medical Center’s [sic] support team.”
As a thank you for her generous work at Eisenhower, in 2019 the organization named a street after her — Sally Berger Way — on its Rancho Mirage campus.
Friend Jan Salta, who served with Berger on boards at Eisenhower and the McCallum Theatre, said: “Sally was a powerhouse woman who was a kind and dear friend. She made an impact on those who knew her, and our community will feel her loss .”
“She was just wonderful,” Kabler said. “She will be greatly missed. She was the most beautiful person. One of a kind. Beloved.”
Berger, who died with her family at her side, is survived by her husband of 67 years, Miles, as well as her daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Albert. A private memorial service will take place Thursday, and a celebration of life will follow in the fall.
As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and locals who give back. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.