Bob Jesse - A Life

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Personal Life

For those who knew Bob Jesse, I hope these words conjure up warm memories. For those that did not, I hope these words shed light on the incredible man that was Dr. Robert Jesse.

Above all, Bob was compassionate. He lived his life fully engaged to the delight and benefit of his family, friends, colleagues, and patients. Although he might look imposing in official pictures, in person he was warm and personable with an engaging, lighthearted manner. His was known as an animated storyteller with a twinkle in his eye, often regaling friends and colleagues with anecdotes about his family whenever he could. His life was guided by his integrity and kindness in all of his interactions, treating people with the utmost respect regardless of their role or position. He gave his time generously to all the causes he embraced and the people surrounding him. He was the doctor that patients could call at midnight on a Saturday. He was the one to come running when an emergency happened nearby.

Bob was as brilliant as he was personable. He was a deep thinker, driven by curiosity in both his professional and personal life. Inspired by challenges on a wide array of topics, he approached each solution with innovative ideas and dedication. An enthusiastic supporter and early adopter of technologies and evidence-based health care strategies, he truly was a visionary thinker. He reveled in incorporating new technology in his personal life as well. He loved buying the latest gadgets--parts to build a computer in the 80's; an EKG smartphone case in the 2010’s.

Bob was tenacious and diligent. Even at home, he was never satisfied sitting still. Free time was spent running all manner of errands, from Costco to BJ's to Lowes. The latter enabled him pursue his passion for home improvements. A frugal fix-it guy, he often taught himself to do all manner of diverse repairs with gusto, even if they didn’t always ended up perfect. His idea of a vacation usually involved conference calls while he relaxed by tackling house projects at the same time.

A lifelong learner, Bob's formal education started at the University of New Hampshire with a degree in Biochemistry (1974). He subsequently enrolled in the Medical College of Virginia where he completed a PhD in Biophysics (1980), received his MD (1984), and pursued his Internal Medicine Residency and Cardiology Fellowships.

Bob began an illustrious career as professor of Internal Medicine/Cardiology at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University and at The Department of Veterans Affairs. At the latter, Bob served as a tireless advocate for America’s veterans for over 30 years, acting as Chief of Cardiology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, VA. Ultimately, he rose to the position of Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health and Acting Under Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC.

In these roles, he was able to launch many programs and initiatives. These included: National Genomic Service; Office of Patient Centered Care; Office of Community Engagement; Office of Health Equity; Office of Quality, Safety and Value; modernization of VA emergency departments; expedited cardiac catheterization for acute heart attack patients and pioneering research in cardiac biomarkers. Who knows when he managed time for the numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters he had published but it is believed that it was on a plane where he was his own captive audience and free from interruption.  

The son of a veteran, he was to dedicated improving the health care delivery for the country’s veterans and continued to see his clinic patients while holding leadership positions. His mantra was that healthcare should always be considered as an “N of 1” - the individual. He cherished those relationships so that his patients even took to calling him at home when they learned that he was ill. His roles as teacher and mentor brought him immense satisfaction throughout his career. He was the recipient of many awards, including distinguished service awards and lifetime achievement awards. It has been said that he also deserved the “messiest office” award, although perhaps that is just a rumor. Despite the countless accolades for his academic expertise and visionary leadership, he remained humble, his most rewarding experiences coming from taking care of his patients and being a mentor.

Professional positions

  • Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA

    • Director of the Acute Cardiac Care Program

    • Tenured professor of Internal Medicine/Cardiology

  • Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC

    • Chief of Cardiology Section, Richmond VA Medical Center

    • National Program Director for Cardiology

    • Chief Consultant for Medical Surgical Services

    • Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Health

    • Acting Under Secretary of Health

    • Chief of Academic Affiliations

Professional Awards and Recognition

  • Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary’s Award as National Program Director for Cardiology

  • Department of Veterans Affairs, Exceptional Service Award

  • UCSD Lifetime Achievement recognizing global contribution to Cardiovascular Biomarkers

  • American College of Cardiology - Distinguished Service Award

  • AMSUS, Society of Federal Health Professionals - Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Dedication of the Dr. Robert L. Jesse Innovation Room - Veterans Health Administration National Simulation (SimLEARN) Center

Professional organizations

  • Diplomate of American board of Internal Medicine

  • Specialty Boards in Cardiovascular Medicine

  • Fellow of American Heart Association

  • Fellow of American College of Cardiology

  • Board of Trustees for the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care

  • Board for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) - A private sector national institute dedicated to patient engagement in research