James A. Oakey, former president of Good Samaritan Hospital and Mercy High School board member, dies

James A. Oakey was former CEO of Helix Health System and was a longtime board member at Mercy High School. He led fundraising efforts for the school's Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium.
James A. Oakey was former CEO of Helix Health System and was a longtime board member at Mercy High School. He led fundraising efforts for the school's Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium. (Handout)

James A. Oakey, former president of Good Samaritan Hospital who led its merger into the Helix Health System, died June 13 at Gilchrist Hospice in Columbia from complications after brain surgery.

The Marriottsville resident was 83.


“Mr. Oakey was truly the face of Good Samaritan Hospital, and under his leadership grew the campus facilities to what we see today. … He had a vision that our campus would be an anchor for our community to access quality health care,” said Brad Chambers, president of MedStar Good Samaritan and MedStar Union Memorial hospitals and senior vice president of MedStar Health, in a statement.

Mr. Oakey had also served as a member and former chairman of the board at Mercy High School.


“Jim was a real presence on our board. He was a very wise and smart businessman and a wonderful human being,” said Sister Pat Smith, RSM, a longtime member of the Mercy High School board.

“All of his daughters went to Mercy and he was always interested in the big picture,” she said. “He really was committed to our decision to stay in the city and continue to serve a wide variety of young women. He brought wise counsel and was supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

One of eight children, James Aloysius Oakey was raised in Chicago, the son of William “Whispering Willie” Oakey, an entrepreneur, and Helen Linden, a homemaker.

Sister Catherine headed the Trinity School in Ellicott City for four decades

After graduating in 1954 from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill., he obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1958 from Loyola University in Chicago, then received a master’s degree in hospital administration from Northwestern University in 1960.

He also served in the Navy as a strike fighter pilot and attained the rank of lieutenant.

Mr. Oakey completed a two-year residency in hospital administration at Cook County Hospital and Loretto Hospital, both in Chicago.

In 1962, he was named the first lay president of Sacred Heart Hospital in Norristown, Pa. During his tenure he expanded its physical plant and its services to meet changes in health care and the growing needs of the community. He was an ubiquitous presence at the hospital who walked the floors each day to keep in touch with staff and patients.

In 1973, he left Sacred Heart when he was named president of Good Samaritan Hospital, a position he held until 1993.

During his first year at the hospital, he signed the formal agreement of affiliation between Good Samaritan and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which brought premier rehabilitation and orthopedic services to patients. The agreement later expanded to include other medical services.

Mr. Oakey also went on a building spree. The J. Walter and Patricia K. Smyth Building and the Russell H. Morgan Building opened in 1983 and 1989. In 1991 a state-of-the-art emergency room opened.

He played a pivotal role in establishing Belvedere Green, an independent living facility for older adults who required support services, as well as the Good Samaritan Nursing Center. In 1990, he opened Good Samaritan Child Day Care Center.

“Mr. Oakey understood these accomplishments came from focusing on the community’s needs as well as our associates’ needs,” Mr. Chambers said in the statement.


“Many remember him walking the hallways and engaging associates in conversation and listening to their successes and suggestions,” he said. “Every decision he made was centered on advancing exceptional health care and building an atmosphere in which associates could thrive in their careers.

“His accomplishments during his more than 20 years as a hospital president were numerous and groundbreaking,” Mr. Chambers said. “He laid the foundation and grew our hospital to be a beacon for health care in our community.”

After Good Samaritan Hospital merged with Helix Health System in 1994, Mr. Oakey was named president and CEO of the Helix Health System and retained that position until 1997.

During his leadership, Helix added Harbor Hospital and Church Home and Hospital to a group that included Union Memorial Hospital and Franklin Square Hospital. Helix also formed a partnership with Medlantic Healthcare Group that expanded to more than $1 billion in revenue, with more than 17,000 employees. This partnership eventually became the present-day MedStar Health.

After stepping down from Helix in 1997, Mr. Oakey became active in start-up ventures in the health care field and was active on multiple boards, including the Good Samaritan Foundation and Mercy High School.

He was a member of the Mercy board from 1999 to 2012, then rejoined in 2016. He was still a member at his death.

“One of his greatest accomplishments was getting the funding for our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium, which was a major accomplishment for Mercy,” Sister Pat said. “It strengthened our efforts in the arts, our dance, drama and music programs, and it was one of the major gifts to the school.”

Mary Beth Lennon, president of Mercy High School, described the auditorium as “his greatest legacy.”

“He not only made his own extraordinary commitment of $500,000, but he was instrumental in securing the $1 million gift from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation for that transformational effort,” Ms. Lennon said in a statement to staff and faculty regarding Mr. Oakey’s death. “The day in 2015 that we announced the partnership with the Hunt Valley Symphony Orchestra was a day of great joy for Jim. He was thrilled that our stage was home to premier productions that engaged the community and gave special opportunities for our Mercy girls.”

Mr. Oakey, who formerly lived in Roland Park, Wiltondale and Elkridge, was a gourmand who enjoyed restaurants, wine and champagne, family members said. He was an Orioles and Ravens fan and liked fishing, traveling and thoroughbred racing.

“He will be remembered as a straight shooter who who wasn’t afraid to be a bit provocative and who would tell it like it is,” said a son, Mark Oakey of Selbyville, Del.

Services are private.

In addition to his son, Mr. Oakey is survived by his wife of nine years, the former Pamela Gavin; four other sons, Michale Oakey of Perry Hall, Patrick Oakey and John Oakey, both of Baltimore, and Matthew Oakey of Towson; four daughters, Kathy Oakey Sanders and Joanne Oakey, both of Baltimore, Suzanne Gearhart of Waynesboro, Pa., and Maureen Mason of Kennett Square, Pa.; a brother, George Oakey of Chicago; a sister, Patricia Mullen of Denver; four stepsons, Matthew Gavin and Michael Gavin, both of Pasadena, Robert Gavin of Marriottsville and Timothy Gavin of Aldie, Va.; and 25 grandchildren. Another son, James A. Oakey Jr., died in 1959. A daughter, Marianne Oakey, died in 1984. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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