Christopher Dawes, former CEO of Packard Children’s Hospital, dies at 68

Under Dawes’ leadership, Packard Children’s Hospital transformed from a hospital for the community into one serving children and pregnant women nationwide.

Christopher Dawes
Stanford Children's Health

Christopher Dawes, who served as chief executive officer of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford for 18 years, died June 29 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 68.

Dawes guided the hospital during its formative years, building it into a nationally renowned center for advanced children’s care. He was beloved by the hospital community for his steady leadership, his warmth and humble nature, his passionate advocacy for children’s health, and his ability to listen to those around him as he implemented bold initiatives to build an outstanding enterprise.

As CEO, he directed a $500 million program to build world-class centers of excellence in several medical specialties; developed a comprehensive, regional network of care for children and mothers; and oversaw a significant expansion of the hospital into a new, technologically advanced, 361-bed facility that opened in 2017.

“We went from being a very lovely community hospital, nicely designed and family-friendly, to a world-class children’s hospital drawing patients from across the United States and around the world,” said Susan Packard Orr, a longtime member of the hospital’s board of directors and daughter of hospital founder, Lucile Packard.

Dawes oversaw the transformation in his characteristically understated way, she said. “He was just a very gentle, low-key guy,” Orr said. “He was a fabulous manager and knew how to hire the right people and motivate them to do good work. A hospital is a really complicated business, and he was able to keep everybody happy and moving forward until we reached the point where we were too successful and didn’t have enough room.”

Dawes also advocated for children at the national level, playing an active role in creating guidelines for coverage of children under the Affordable Care Act. He retired from the hospital in 2018.

Paul King took over as CEO of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital-Stanford Children’s Health in January. “Chris never lost track of why we’re here, and why we do what we do. He understood at a fundamental level the profound difference that we could make in the lives of children and families when we come together in teams to share better ideas and better practices — that when applied consistently create the magic and miracle of healing,” King said.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, said Dawes will be remembered for his enormous contributions to maternal and child health. “Chris was a tireless advocate for children’s health. Through his passion and dedication, he helped bring extraordinary advances in clinical services to our young patients,” Minor said. “An exceptional colleague and leader, he will be greatly missed by the entire Stanford Medicine community.”

David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care, worked together with Dawes and Minor to create the Stanford Medicine integrated strategic plan. “It was wonderful to partner with an outstanding leader like Chris as our two hospitals and the medical school worked in concert to determine our collective future direction and how best to get there. We found tremendous success in our ability to work together and collaborate,” Entwistle said.

“Beyond his effective leadership, what I will remember most about Chris are his kindness and dedication to the mission of helping children in need,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD. “He leaves behind a significant legacy at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, having taken the institution to a new level. He truly created the children’s hospital of the future.” 

British native

A native of Great Britain, Dawes came to California with his family as a child. Though he had early dreams of being a commercial airline pilot, he eventually found his way into hospital administration. He attended San Diego State University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in public administration in 1974, and went on to earn an MBA from the McLaren School of Business at the University of San Francisco in 1984.

For more than 10 years, he worked in senior administrative positions at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center in San Francisco, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose and Stanford Health Care. He joined Packard Children’s as its chief operating officer in 1995.

Shortly after that, the children’s hospital became part of a merger between Stanford Health Care and UC-San Francisco. Dawes oversaw the successful integration of the pediatric programs at the two leading academic medical centers. Though the merger ultimately failed, he distinguished himself as a strong leader during the process and became the CEO of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in 1997.

“I wasn’t sure about becoming a CEO, in part because there’s a lot of politics, a lot of diplomacy and I was more interested in day-to-day operations,” Dawes said in a 2017 interview with the Silicon Valley Business Journal. “I learned fairly quickly that as a CEO, you’re not there to problem-solve. You are there to help coach and guide people so that they will make the right decisions. My job is to provide the vision, hire good people, set the direction and let them do the problem-solving.”

In consulting with the medical staff, Dawes realized that if the hospital were to be truly great, it would have to build up its specialty programs and recruit the best talent available. He oversaw a $500 million campaign, one of the largest ever for a U.S. children’s hospital, and helped attract more than 100 top faculty in their fields to lead new programs in heart and cancer carebrain and behaviortransplantationpulmonary disease, and pregnancy and newborn care.

Dawes also came to recognize the importance of research to Packard’s academic mission and became a strong supporter of an initiative now known as the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute. Over the course of a decade, the institute has provided more than $52 million to Stanford investigators in both the clinical and basic sciences.

Harvey Cohen, MD, PhD, former chief of pediatrics at the hospital, said Dawes succeeded in part because he had an excellent rapport with members of the medical staff and was responsive to their ideas and needs. “He listened to us and understood what it would take to build clinical and academic programs,” said Cohen, the Deborah E. Addicott-John A. Kriewall and Elizabeth A. Haehl Family Professor in Pediatrics. “That was the attribute that allowed him to lead us from being a reasonably good regional children’s hospital to one of the best children’s hospitals in the country.”

Expanding the hospital

As the hospital’s national reputation grew, it began to attract more patients and to outgrow its space. Under Dawes’ direction, hospital officials launched a massive undertaking to expand on neighboring land, doubling the hospital’s size to 521,000 square feet and adding six operating rooms and 149 beds. The new, 361-bed hospital features extensive artwork, 3½ acres of gardens and many family-friendly features. It opened to patients in December 2017.

Dawes also oversaw the creation of a regional health care network to enable patients and families to readily access Packard’s services throughout the Bay Area and the West Coast. The network, known as Stanford Children’s Health, now has 60 locations in Northern California and is the only health system in the area — and one of the few in the country —exclusively dedicated to pediatric and obstetric care.

“The goal was to make it accessible to everyone within 10 miles of their home. That was Chris’ vision — that Packard should be part of everybody’s family,” said David Stevenson, MD, the Harold K. Faber Professor of Pediatrics and senior associate dean of maternal and child health at the School of Medicine.

The idea of embracing family was very much in keeping with Dawes’ character. “He was very approachable and warm,” Stevenson said. “He focused on you. He listened to you. He had a fatherly disposition that was very welcoming and supportive. His hardest problem was saying no. He always wanted to be helpful and responsive.”

Dawes was also involved in children’s organizations at the national and state level. He was the former chair of the board of trustees for the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutes and for the Child Health Corporation of America; both are now part of the Children’s Hospital Association. During the development of the Affordable Care Act, he spent much time in Washington, D.C., helping ensure that children would be appropriately covered.

He served on the board of directors for the Solutions for Patient Safety Project, a network of more than 80 children’s hospitals in the United States working to create a safe and healing environment for children. He also was a board member of the California Hospital Association, the California Children’s Hospital Association and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

When asked in a 2018 interview what he saw as his legacy, he said, “I am very proud of the work we do for children and pregnant women. Collectively we have created an organization that is admired nationally, and is a place that attracts great faculty and staff. We have a terrific future.”

Though his professional accomplishments were many, Dawes was proudest of his family. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Beth) Dawes of Los Altos; son Scott Dawes of San Jose and daughter-in-law Brittney Dawes, and son Matthew Dawes of San Francisco; daughter Sara Dawes Hughes and son-in-law Caleb Hughes of Spokane, Washington; and two great-nephews, Antonio and David Gonzalez.

Arrangements for a celebration of his life are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations made in Dawes’ honor be directed to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.


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