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Rita Marie Haley


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.

Matthew Goldy of Cotati described his mother as a "completely selfless" person who "always put others first."

Responding to the needs of family, friends or strangers, "she gave unconditionally, never thinking of herself," Goldy said.

"There will never be anyone to replace her," he said.

Clark, a pharmacy technician, said family members were enlisted in Haley's efforts to find medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers and shower benches, for low-income patients.

"We were always on garage-sale patrol," Clark said.

An avid quilter, Haley and McCool were among the five nurses in a quilting group called Quilts2Be, making quilts they donated to homeless women and children.

Haley was also a dedicated traveler, making six visits to the Hawaiian Islands, including Maui, her favorite, and trips to Mexico and China.

In addition to her son and two sisters, Haley is survived by a second son, Daniel Goldy of Santa Rosa; brothers Gene Haley of Point Reyes Station, Mark Haley of Sebastopol, Pat Haley of Sonoma and Andy Haley of Sacramento; a third sister, Mary Jo Lessing of Vancouver, Wash.; and numerous nieces and nephews.

A celebration of Haley's life will be at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Community Church Memorial Hall, 1000 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol.

Private inurnment will be at Olema Cemetery in Marin County. Donations to purchase medical equipment and supplies for the needy may be made to the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Foundation, 1154 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 95405.