Remembering Dr. Harry Jonas: My boss, my mentor, my friend


An introductory message from President/CEO Qiana Thomason:  

The Health Forward community was saddened by the loss of Dr. Harry Jonas, a dear and forever friend, and champion for health in Kansas City. Dr. Jonas was Health Forward’s inaugural chair of the board of directors. In that role, he laid the groundwork for Health Forward as a funder and community partner. Today, his legacy lives on as we continue our work in supporting and building inclusive, powerful, and healthy urban and rural communities.   This week a memorial celebration will be held to honor his life and legacy.  We want to share and celebrate the contributions Dr. Jonas made to Health Forward and asked his friend and our first president/CEO Steve Roling to share a few special memories.  

When I asked former Governor Jay Nixon why he named Harry S. Jonas Jr., M.D., as the inaugural board chair of the foundation in 2002, he told me that he knew Dr. Jonas could lead very well-known, diverse, and strongly opinionated board members so that they made ethical and transparent decisions that were good for the entire community the foundation served throughout the region.  Without question, Governor Nixon made the right choice!

Dr. Jonas was an inspiring and humble leader that brought passion and integrity to every organization he was involved with. As an obstetrician/gynecologist, he delivered more than 7,000 babies in his 19 years of practice in the KC area. He served as a city council member in Independence, MO. He served as chair of the Jackson County Legislature for four years. He served as Dean of the UMKC School of Medicine for 10 years. He served as the Vice President of Undergraduate Education with the American Medical Society which accredits 126 medical schools in the United States and Canada. Dr. Jonas had a full and productive professional life. He also was involved in a host of nonprofit/civic organizations that benefited from his leadership.


I was fortunate to work with Dr. Jonas in the early years when the foundation board was writing the founding by-laws, mission and vision, grant guidelines, and values and ethics statements. Dr. Jonas made sure every board and staff member had a voice in the wording of these documents, but he was insistent that this new foundation would adhere to some principles he thought were important:

  • Ethics/Transparency/Fairness
  • Listening authentically and being constantly accessible to the communities we serve
  • Be willing to take informed risks that others may not be willing to take
  • Understand and study research on best practices in the field of philanthropy, and all the vital issues that affect the health outcomes of the underserved.
  • Work with other funders, and governmental, nonprofit, religious, and civic groups that are focused on health-related issues that affect the underserved
  • Accountability and results matter…we must be an action-oriented foundation…we must learn from our mistakes and successes.
  • Providing leadership and support to agencies that serve both urban and rural communities
  • Providing leadership and support to both small community-based and larger nonprofit agencies
  • Providing leadership and support for both grantmaking and advocacy activities

When you read our founding documents you can see the significant influence Dr. Jonas had in making sure this new foundation adhered to all these principles.

Dr. Jonas was my boss when I first joined the foundation and through the years, he became my mentor and good friend. He was a kind, thoughtful and generous person who thought public service to our community was important. We loved to talk about the current issues of the day, and he always had a book that he just read he wanted to tell me about. He loved to read biographical or history books. He was a friend of President Truman and he was primarily responsible for raising money for the statue of President Truman outside the Independence Court House. It is fitting that Dr. Jonas’s tribute service will be held at the Truman Library on February 10th.  He had a very curious mind, and he had the willingness to learn about new concepts.

Most of all he loved his family. If you were around Dr. Jonas for more than 15 minutes you would hear stories about Connie, Hank, Bill, Sarah and their spouses and children. He was so proud of his family! If you are lucky, you are blessed with a loving family and with many friends. Dr. Jonas was a special person in my life…he always had time to talk … he made everyone feel valued and special.  I will miss my friend & mentor, but it has been said when you keep someone in your heart, they never die. Because Dr. Jonas had a positive personal impact on thousands of people throughout his life…He will never die! Rest in Eternal Peace, My Friend!