Bronson School of Nursing recognizes founding director, advocate

Contact: Joel Krauss

Bernardine Lacey (middle) with classmates at the Gilfoy School of Nursing in 1961

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is recognizing the founding director of its Bronson School of Nursing, Dr. Bernardine Lacey, who served in that role as well as a professor for five years. Her remarkable life and education led her to an extraordinary career spent advocating for children and homeless individuals in Washington, D.C., and beyond. After leaving Western in the spring of 2012, she continued to work in education, mentoring nurses and nurse educators, truly shaping the field of nursing for generations to come.

Lacey passed away on March 26, 2021.

Lacey received her nursing diploma at Gilfoy School of Nursing at Mississippi Baptist Hospital in 1962. Her oral history, outlining her experiences working as a nurse in the 1960’s,  is preserved through Georgetown University, where she earned her RN-to-BSN in 1969.  She started as a staff nurse at Howard University Freedmen’s Hospital and worked her way to administrative supervisor.

While at Howard, she was a catalyst behind adding care of the underserved to the curriculum in the College of Nursing. She received a $1.4 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop and direct a nurse-managed respite center for homeless men.

Late in her career, Lacey received numerous citations and awards thanks to a lifetime of professional and civic excellence. Those honors included induction as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the Georgetown University Distinguished Alumni Award, the ANA Pearl McIver Public Health and a $1.5 million donation to Western to establish the Dr. Bernardine M. Lacey Endowed Chair in Community Health Nursing. 

“Throughout her 88 years of living life to the fullest, Lacey received numerous accolades—which are tangible testaments to her undeniable impact on the intersection of nursing and our nursing education communities,” according to Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, in a statement entered in the Congressional Record. “Dr. Lacey’s significant contributions to the field of nursing and public health are widely appreciated by a host of colleagues, friends and students.”

Dr. Lacey and First Lady Barbara Bush at the White House in the 1980s

“Dr. Lacey was clearly an influential figure in the world of nursing,” says Dr. Lisa Singleterry, director of the WMU Bronson School of Nursing. “We were so fortunate to have her here at WMU during the earliest days of our nursing program. She left her mark on us and set us up to be what we have become.”

In 2014, she was named a “Living Legend” by the American Academy of Nursing, recognizing a small group of fellows in honor of their extraordinary contributions to the nursing profession. Dr. Lacey continues to be named on lists of influential nurses from organizations and on websites focused on the contributions of Black nurses.

This fall, the WMU Bronson School of Nursing hired Dr. Chandice Covington as the Bernadine M. Lacey Endowed Chair. Her role in the endowed chair is to mentor and promote the nursing science careers of nursing faculty and to support development of further graduate education opportunities at Western.

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