If you’re going to review the list of accomplishments in Bernard “Bernie” Marcus’ life, you should grab a cup of coffee and prepare to do a lot of reading. What Bernie has accomplished in the past 30 years is a staggering list of financial successes and extraordinary philanthropy. Shepherd Center is privileged to be among the many recipients of the Marcus family’s seemingly endless generosity and innovation.
Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank moved to Atlanta in 1978 and decided to start a retail business for home improvement, known as The Home Depot. Within years, it became a multi-million dollar enterprise with locations across the country.
By 1983, Bernie was CEO of The Home Depot and became one of the busiest executives in the country. One of his associates persisted amidst his hectic schedule in trying to get Bernie to tour Shepherd Center. Eventually he agreed to visit – under the impression that he was about to witness gloom and despair. Instead, he found a positive attitude throughout the Center. “The tour changed everything,” he recalls. “These people were doing wonderful things to help those with catastrophic injuries.”
In 1987, Bernie joined the Shepherd Center Board of Directors. Additionally, he was chairman of the Capital Campaign from 1987-1991 and helped raise more than $15 million for Shepherd Center’s expansion. The expanded Shepherd building was named in honor of Bernie’s wife, Billi Marcus.
“It was the best possible gift I could give her,” Bernie says. “In the early days of our marriage, we promised ourselves that if we ever became successful, we wouldn’t clamor for jewels or diamonds. We always felt it was important to give back to the community. For her birthday, I could have given her a gorgeous ring, but instead I chose to name a structure after her that would impact hundreds of lives.” The new space allowed Shepherd to expand Outpatient Services and the Acquired Brain Injury Program.
Billi Marcus was also actively involved in volunteering for the hospital. Following Shepherd’s golf tournament in 1985, Billi became chair and co-chair of the event for the next 17 years. In 1989, she was named Shepherd’s Angel of the Year, the highest honor for volunteer service. She stepped down from the position of chair for the golf tournament in 2002. To honor her achievements, the golf tournament was named the Billi Marcus Classic for the next three years.
In the new millennium, the Marcus family still ardently supported Shepherd Center. Bernie and Billi made a pledge to the Center to begin funding a program that would support patients after they discharged from Shepherd. The Marcus Community Bridge Program was designed to assist patients as they returned to their homes, workplaces and communities. The dialogue between Shepherd Center experts and their patients was kept open. More importantly, the Bridge Program helped advise patients via telehealth medicine on ways to prevent re-hospitalization . The patient’s transition back to home and community requires special attention to ensure success, and the Marcus Bridge Program was sure to provide that support.
With the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom, more American soldiers were returning from battle with catastrophic and traumatic brain injuries caused by repetitive concussive blasts. One of these stories caught the eye of Bernie, who, by 2002, was retired as CEO of The Home Depot. A mother had advocated for her son to receive care at Shepherd Center. She wanted him to have the specialized spinal and brain injury care for which the Center was renowned. Because of this soldier’s story, Bernie wanted to make this option available to every person who had fought overseas. After conversations with the Shepherd family, Shepherd Center’s clinical staff and Humana Military Healthcare Services, which is the administrator of the Department of Defense’s TRICARE South Region, the SHARE Initiative (Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence) was started. This program is funded in large part by the Marcus Foundation and pays for the gaps in care for patients who have served in the military. Transportation, personal attendants and ancillary needs are covered by SHARE. “I get emotional because these young men and women deserve the best we can offer,” Bernie says. “We’ve taken care of more than 100 soldiers, but it’s not enough. We could have done 200.”
Bernie has a long history of serving as a leader and supporter of Shepherd Center. In reflection on his relationship with Shepherd Center, Bernie says: “The personal satisfaction is overwhelming. Shepherd is a place where the heart is very much involved with the process. Teaching to walk, encouraging the future, it’s just the beginning. By giving to Shepherd, you are a part of the light at the end of the tunnel. As long as Shepherd continues this extraordinary enterprise, it will continue to evolve.”