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Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson's Legacy, Compassion Remembered In Oakland

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Last week, the medical community was stunned by the news that Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson died in his sleep at 60 years of age. Family and friends gathered in Oakland Sunday to reflect on his legacy.

Those who arrived for Sunday morning's public viewing at the City Hall Rotunda Building remember Tyson as a man whose compassion for others made Kaiser Permanente a national leader in health care by focusing on the well-being of the individual patient.

bernard tyson funeral service in Oakland
A visitor looks upon Tyson's casket during a public service for the Kaiser leader (CBS)

"And that was what he drove…like, we're going to take care of you when you're well so you don't get sick, whereas everybody else is saying we're just going to charge you for transactions and procedures," said Ben Horowitz, Tyson's friend and Founding Partner of venture capital firm Andreeson Horwitz.

Born in Vallejo, Tyson worked his way up over 30 years from a job in medical records to the chairman's seat. But once there, he spoke not just about keeping people well, but fighting against the things making them sick, such as homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

"He talked about how there was a disconnect between the body and the mind, how health care had missed the mark on that," said mental health advocate Y'anad Burrell.

"He went out into the world and he talked about all the things other people were afraid to talk about," said Sherry Buie. She was Tyson's assistant for 23 years and says it wasn't just talk. Under his leadership, Kaiser has committed $200 million to combat homelessness, including the construction of a holistic health "Thrive Center" in downtown Oakland.

"Because he's touched so many lives and he's brought so many people together, I think he's made the organization change and come together and grow," said Buie.

But Don Thompson, a close friend and former CEO of McDonalds, says Tyson reached far beyond his own company, using his rare position as an African American chief executive to actively promote diversity in the workplace in general.

"He was always aware of the fact that we stand on the shoulders of many who've gone before us," said Thompson. "And it's our responsibility, our duty to ensure that others who look like us will also come along that same road."

In 2017, Tyson was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in America. And while the man may be gone, the influence he's had on others continues to thrive.

So far, no information has been released about the cause of Tyson's death. He is survived by his wife, Denise, and three sons.

A private invitation-only service for Tyson will be held at Chase Center in San Francisco on Monday.

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