Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Videoconferencing Legend: A Tribute to Bob Bodine

Great leaders are known for their vision, and it's more than just an impression that they leave – it's inspiration. I worked for one of the greats early in my career as a video professional in the health care industry – a man who was respected and admired for his vision, drive and ability to achieve exceptional results. As Director of Audio Visual Services for Kaiser Permanente for 28 years, Bob Bodine avoided the spotlight and led a small corporate AV department while quietly building one of the largest corporate videoconferencing networks of its time. Bob died on April 7, 1998 after many years of heart disease, and while he was impaired with physical limitations, that didn't stop him from realizing his vision – to connect the many people of his organization through videoconferencing technology.

He was your old school type of boss who would greet clients that arrived in the department, and get to know what they were doing and how his department supported their goals. He made the rounds visiting the sub-departments and checking in with his staff. He had that "big tent" theory and offered a boutique of audio visual services to a wealth of internal clients, from doctors, nurses, front line staff, managers, leaders an the office of the CEO. This was pre-IT days, mid 1980s, dumb terminals, no mobile devices, email was all ASCII text-based. Custom applications were built on Hypercard, DBase IV, and the Video Toaster was the state of the art, and printing and file sharing was done over Appletalk. My first job working for Bob was to duplicate and distribute VHS videotapes and audio cassettes, but within a year he moved me into the new and growing sub-department called teleconferencing.

Bob worked the system by bringing the the right people in right places together, to share his early vision of bringing videoconferencing to our organization to help save travel time of our busy doctors. He recognized early on, that physicians, management and staff, and leadership could meet virtually using video technology to see and hear each other and share documents, slides, videos and also bring a higher production value to the medium with studio produced medical education programming. He blazed the trail making deals with vendors of all shapes and sizes to create the specialized rooms and environments, which for the most part didn't exist in the early 1990's. There were no off-the-shelf solutions, like there are today with Cisco's new ūmi home telepresence system, so Bob built his own. In some respect, he carried on a legacy that was started by Henry Kaiser, the builder and founder of the company he worked for, and actually I still work for today.

Bob also saw the value of bringing videoconferencing technology to the medical practice and medical education, and was an early pioneer in Telemedicine, sponsoring projects for Tele-psychiatry, Tele-dermatology and Tele-Home Health. He was recognized by Teleconference magazine as a driving force in Telemedicine, and in 1995, he was inducted into the Teleconference magazine Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

At that time, Patrick Portway, President of Applied Business teleCommunications, noted that if someone were to write a book on how agents of change can effectively introduce new technology into a large organization, Bob  Bodine would be an ideal case study.

Portway said:
"Bodine is the classic example of what Dick Jackson of Aetna Life and Casuality used to call the shoehorn in an organization (the guy or gal who made the technology fit the organization). That champion of videoconferencing does everything from initially proposing the technology to procuring the systems to developing applications and internally marketing the capability to users in the organization."
Times have changed since then, and departments like IT, Procurement & Supply and National Facilities Services are now responsible for technology infrastructure, planning and design, supply chain management and contracting. Projects are now funded much differently than in the past, and go through a rigorous approval process for the specific business case. What has also changed is the dramatic increase in the use of video within organizations, through videoconferencing, TelePresence, webinars, online and mobile videos, and high definition.

As I was writing this post, a client of mine, who hosts quarterly educational sessions for our medical coders, sent me a note that affirmed her belief in the importance of videoconferences and webinars. She shared an article about the rescued Chilean miners, who praised the doctors and psychologists that aided them via a videoconferencing connection throughout the 69 days they were trapped inside the mine. The miners were able to communicate with their families as well, which was even more important to them.

Rescued miner Mario Sepulveda said that seeing their faces and hearing their voices gave them the will to survive:
"They gave us our lives back. It's incredible that with 700 meters between us, and not seeing us face-to-face, they revived us."
Videoconferencing has helped shape the way we communicate, by bridging the distance between the many miles that separate us. I feel fortunate to have worked for Bob Bodine, who was a great leader, mentor, and in my book, a videoconferencing legend. I'm proud to say that in my own way I'm carrying on Bob's legacy.

Soon after Bob passed away in 1998, I built a tribute page to him is out there somewhere on the Interwebs. I've included that text of that page below, so that it can now have a new home here on Klessblog.

"I am an idealist. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way."
- Carl Sandburg

Bob Bodine was an idealist.

In 1970, Bob saw a department where there was only he.

In the following 28 years as Director of Audio-Visual Services at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, Bob often envisioned highways where there were only fields.

He saw televisions and cameras tucked into conference rooms, through which people would see and talk to each other.

Between buildings. Across cities. Throughout a country.

He saw instructors and students, separated by miles, but connected through technology.

He saw medicine being practiced in our hospitals, but delivered to our homes.

He saw a vast organization; without borders, united in culture, whose names came with faces, regardless of distance.

And he saw in us, his staff, the potential we did not always see in ourselves.

Bob Bodine left us much. A legacy to protect. A dream to pursue. And the spirit with which to do it all.

Kelly Miller
April 1998

Date: 28 Apr 1998 11:00:02 -0700
From: Larry Kless
To: (Return requested)
Subject: Bob Bodine

Kaiser Permanente/Stat

Bob Bodine, Kaiser Permanente's video visionary, dies at 62

FOR 28 YEARS, Bob Bodine ran his department, California MultiMedia Communications, as if it was the neighborhood grocery store. He believed in long term relationships, treating his staff like family and putting the customer first. He told his staff, "Never say no, to a client. Even if we can't do a particular job, we'll broker it to make sure our customer gets what they need."

Bob loved to innovate. The words "leader"and "visionary" are overused today. Bob was the real thing. Bob brought videoconferencing to Kaiser Permanente, saving the company millions in travel expenses and improving communication among staff. He started with no budget, no resources and no support from leadership, and finished with one of the largest corporate videoconference systems in the US.

Once videoconferencing was in place, Bob was anxious to find other applications for the system beyond business meetings. Since his days at the radio and TV station at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Bob wanted to get back to distance learning. Through an innovation grant and a partnership with the Nursing Department, Bob realized his dream.

Today nurses at Kaiser Permanente facilities can earn advanced degrees from state and private universities over the videoconferencing network. Distance learning has added other courses like engineering, statistics and Spanish medical terminology to enhance the careers of our staff and improve service to members.

Bob was instrumental in introducing telemedicine to Kaiser Permanente. Again with no budget and few resources he supported the research and development of this new technology. He was proud to work with the Home Health nurses in Sacramento and the Psychiatric Department staff in San Rafael to improve access and service to Kaiser members.

Bob had many more accomplishments and projects we can point to, in health education, internal communication and physician education, but he will be most remembered for who he was. A generous man who many sought out for his good counsel and friendship. An optimist who could find the good and the opportunities in any kind of adversity. An innovator who was never satisfied with the status quo. A loyal friend and boss who valued and nurtured his staff.

Bob is gone but his legacy will live on in the department he created and the people who continue to carry his values of innovation, service and integrity.

By Toni Casal

What follows is an obituary on Bob Bodine published in the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times on April 12, 1998:

Bob Bodine gained strength from illnesses

Born: May 19, 1936, in Michigan City, Ind.
Died: April 7, 1998, in San Francisco

Survivors: His wife of 39 years, Mary Bodine of Antioch; a daughter, Suzanne Lescure of Danville; three sons, William Bodine of Concord, Michael Bodine of Lake Shastina, and Edward Bodine of Antioch; four grandchildren; and many cousins.

Services: A memorial service was held at Christ the King Catholic Church, in Pleasant Hill.
Memorial gifts: American Heart Association, P.O. Box 5157, Oakland, CA 94605; or Salvation Army, P.O. Box 340, Concord, CA 94520.

By Joan Morris


Several times in Bob Bodine's life, death had come calling for his family and for himself.

When he was just a boy, both of his parents died after suffering heart attacks. Michael Bodine died at age 52. Nejla Bodine was only 42. Twenty years after her death, Bob's older and only brother, Ed, also suffered a heart attack and died. He was 42.

Bob knew what the odds were, says his father-in-law, Mac McGuigan. But he never let that get in his way of living.

"He was destined to have a very complicated life that involved sickness and sorrow, but filled with kindness, warmth," Mac says. "One would never hear of any illness from Bob."

When Bob was just 6, he contracted polio. Doctors ordered complete bed rest, but then he met Sister Kenny, a nun at the local parish. She believed in exercise, working the muscles that polio ravaged. The nun turned out to be Bob's saving grace. Although the polio damaged his legs, he survived and grew stronger. It was a strength he would need to face what lay ahead.

Bob was 10 when his parents died, and his brother was 20. Ed joined the military and Bob went to live with his mother's sister. The family already had five children Chuck, Sylvia, Larice, Betty and Margaret but they welcomed him as the newest and youngest member, calling him Bo because he had so many other cousins and uncles named Bob.

Bob was happy in his new home. His aunt and uncle encouraged his interest in music. He learned to play several instruments, from clarinet to trombone. He played in a dance band and with the University of Wisconsin band. In 1957, while still a student at the university, Bob met a beautiful young woman named Mary McGuigan. They fell in love and married two years later.

When Bob graduated, he went to work for WHA, a radio station in Madison, Wis. But Mary missed her family in California. Bob used to say he decided to move to California to please Mary and to get away from tornadoes.

Times were hard at first. Bob didn't have a job when the couple first moved to the Bay Area, but they made do. Bob taught music and sold insurance before landing a job with Kaiser Permanente in 1970.

Kaiser was creating a new audio-visual department and Bob was excited at the potential. At first, the department filmed promotional pieces and made medical-education videos, but Bob expanded the vision to include teleconferencing.

His co-workers said Bob was a pioneer in the new technology, introducing Kaiser and other businesses to teleconferencing, using technology to link several people at several locations, providing direct and instantaneous communication. Under his direction, Kaiser implemented a program that brought doctors together to discuss patient treatments, managers to talk about policies, and researchers to discuss findings, without leaving their hospitals, offices and labs.

In an odd way, Bob owed part of his life to his brother's death. Bob had always feared flying. During college, the band would occasionally fly to out-of-state games and performances. Bob would go to the airport, but he never could bring himself to get on a plane.

When Ed died in 1968, Bob had to fly to Florida for the funeral. Knowing he needed to be there for his brother, Bob forced himself to board a plane and fly across the country. His fears vanished and Bob soon became a frequent flier as Kaiser sent him all over the country to set up teleconferencing programs at other hospitals.

Ed's death also made Bob more cautious about his own health. Bob was very happy with his family, job and many friends. He had joined a U.S. and Canadian cribbage group and was eventually ranked 98th in the country. Friends described him as fun-loving, always ready with a joke, caring of others. Inside, though, he was facing a crisis.

In 1978, Bob turned 42 - the age when his mother and brother had died. Worse yet, he was starting to have heart problems.

Although bypass surgery was still in the pioneering stages, Bob agreed to the operation. Later, he would say it gave him a new lease on life. His family treasures a newspaper article written two decades ago about "new" medical miracles, including bypass surgery. The photo with the story shows a grinning Bob, his arms spread wide.

The operation bought Bob 17 more years. In 1995, at age 57, he underwent a second, even riskier bypass. It, too, was successful, but Bob's general health slowly began to decline. The 30-mile drive between his home in Antioch and his job in Oakland grew more tiring. And complications from his polio resurfaced, making it difficult for him to get around.

He fell often, Mac says, but he always rejected any help. If you asked how he was doing, Mac says, he'd tell you he was doing great.

But one day he fell on a concrete step and broke his hip, requiring surgery.

"His mobility was severely impaired," Mac says, "but he never complained. He just dealt with it." Shortly after the surgery, Bob's heart problems reappeared. He was hospitalized, first in Oakland, then in San Jose and finally to the UC Medical Center in San Francisco. On March 17, Bob's name was entered on the heart transplant waiting list. Doctors were forced to place him on an artificial-heart machine as they waited for a donor.

"It was very distressing to see this remarkable individual, lying in UCSF, unable to talk and barely able to respond at times," Mac says. "He was not expected to live on so many occasions, but he'd rally, to the surprise of his doctors."

Three weeks later, Bob died. His family was with him at the end.

"We will miss him tremendously, but we are grateful for his company and for his unflagging enthusiasm," Mac says, "even if for too short a time. We thank him for his part in trying to make the world a better place."