As the oldest of eight siblings, Rita Marie Haley was essentially born into her four-decade career as a nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Caring for others started in childhood for Haley, helping her mother, Joan Haley, tend to the younger kids and two in-laws at their home in Point Reyes Station.
“One mother couldn't do it all,” said her sister, Cathy McCool of Freestone, the second-oldest, who shared the household caregiving role and also became a nurse.
Advice from their father, Mike Haley, pointed both women toward their careers. “My dad told us we should become a teacher or a nurse and we'd always have a job,” McCool said.
Rita Haley died Jan. 4 at Memorial Hospital after a lengthy illness. She was 63.
Haley had spent several months at Bay Area hospitals, and transferred to Memorial to be closer to home and give colleagues a last chance to visit her.
In two days before her death, at least 60 hospital staffers came to her room “to say their good-byes,” said her sister, Liz Clark of Folsom.
Haley started at West Marin Elementary School in Point Reyes Station, attended Marin Catholic High School for a year and graduated in 1968 from Tomales High School, where she played clarinet in the marching band.
She earned a nursing certificate at Santa Rosa Junior College and a bachelor's degree from Chapman College in Southern California, finishing school in the early 1970s.
After two years at a Pennsylvania hospital, Haley returned to Santa Rosa and went to work at Memorial Hospital in 1975, first as a critical care nurse and then in the cardiac care laboratory.
She moved into management in 1990 and worked in a variety of positions until last year. Haley played a crucial role in developing Memorial's Case Management Department, hospital spokeswoman Katy Hillenmeyer said.
As well as implementing new programs and computer software tools, Haley served as an unheralded “behind-the-scenes problem-solver” for both patients and physicians, Hillenmeyer said.