August 4, 2012 in Features, Health

A legacy of caring

Hospice of Spokane founders look back as 35th anniversary nears
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Hospice of Spokane is celebrating its 35th anniversary this fall. Four of the people in from the earliest days included from left, Barb Savage, Marj Humphrey, along with Barb and Johnny Cox.
(Full-size photo)


• Hospice of Spokane is a nonprofit organization that served 2,030 patients and their loved ones in Spokane, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties in 2011.

• It employs 126 people and has more than 300 volunteers.

• Hospice House, a residential facility for dying people, opened on Spokane’s South Side in 2007. A second home is planned for Spokane’s North Side.

• For more information, go to or call (509) 456-0438

On the Web: Listen to Barb Savage describe helping a 32-year-old man finally open up about his cancer in the early 1970s, when few people ever talked about terminal illness at

Thirty-five years ago, Hospice of Spokane helped its first dying person.

Monday evening, three of the five original founders gathered to reminisce. Over dinner at the home of Gina Drummond, Hospice’s chief executive officer, Barb Savage, Johnny Cox, Marj Humphrey, along with Hospice’s first clinical director, Barb Cox, looked back three decades.

How it began: In 1974, Johnny Cox, a theology professor at Gonzaga University, came back from a conference where he had met two Yale academics starting a hospice. He said: “Let’s try it in Spokane.”

He was joined in the vision by Savage, then a nurse at Holy Family Hospital; community volunteer Mary Fairhurst, now deceased; and the late Leonard Salladay, an insurance broker who had lost a grown daughter to cancer. Cox suggested Humphrey, then a graduate student in guidance and counseling, focus her thesis on the psychological needs of terminally ill hospital patients. She was in.

Dying back then: “There were no such things as oncology units,” Savage said. “People weren’t even told they were going to die.”

Barb Cox, Johnny’s wife, said: “I would ask (dying) people: ‘What is it like for you? People would share their heart. And then they’d say, ‘Thank you so much. No one asks me.’ ”

In Humphrey’s surveys filled out by dying people, she discovered that “people didn’t think hospitals were meeting their needs at the end of their lives.” Yet the majority of people then died in hospitals.

Hospice was so new in the 1970s, remembered Johnny Cox, that people mispronounced it “Ho Spice.”

The naysayers: The Spokane group met for advice with academic medical people organizing a hospice in Seattle. Johnny Cox remembered: “They told us, ‘Don’t even try to do this. You don’t have any competence.’ We were providing care before they did.”

The group officially incorporated on Dec. 8, 1976, one of only a dozen hospice programs then in the United States, and the group was helping people by fall 1977.

The early years: The original name was “Hospice Maran atha.” The Biblical term reflected the original vision of an ecumenical effort through churches and neighborhoods. The group received donations from women’s religious communities; GU donated office space and work-study students. The Alexian Brothers, a health care ministry, loaned to the group for two years Brother John Grider who was also a registered nurse.

Eventually the name was changed to Hospice of Spokane.

How it changed them: Humphrey became a physician assistant and spent years in East Africa ministering to AIDS patients. Barb Cox discovered that dying people often want to give back, even in the last months of life.

A man she visited said, “Barb, sit down. I want to show you how to hook a rug.”

Johnny Cox, who also became a registered nurse, said: “At the time, Hallmark had the saying: ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ I modified it. Today is the only day of my life. I learned that from the people we took care of.”

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