In Memoriam: Camille Ranker Hathaway, CRNA (1940-2017)

  • Jun 7, 2018

Camille Ranker Hathaway, CRNA, died in Mendocino, California, in August 2017.

Camille Ranker Hathaway, CRNACamille’s death was not widely noted at the time, but not because her life was inconsequential. Camille was a non-self promoter who quietly impacted nurse anesthesia and Mendocino, the artists’ community where she lived for over 40 years. Camille practiced anesthesia, advocated for rural health care, supported the arts, and provided everyone who knew her with shots of good humor just when they were most in need of it.

Camille was born in 1940 in Detroit, where she trained to become a nurse (Providence Hospital 1961) and a CRNA (Mt. Carmel/Mercy Hospital 1966). Camille's resume states that between 1966 and 1978 she worked in "large and small hospitals in Michigan and California." In the San Francisco Bay Area, Camille worked for Kaiser Oakland. In 1978, Camille entered private practice at the Mendocino Coast District Hospital, approximately 180 miles north of the Bay Area. She retired from anesthesia in 1987, but that only led her to greater involvement in healthcare. She was elected to the hospital's board of directors, its foundation board, and several key committees. Camille also served on the Governance Forum of the California Healthcare Association, the state’s trade association for hospitals, and became a board member of the Association of California Health Districts, the trade group for rural hospitals. In these positions Camille advocated for safe affordable healthcare in general, and for CRNAs specifically.

In “retirement” Camille, together with her husband Chuck Hathaway, established Mendocino Graphics in Fort Bragg, California. For the next two decades, the company published Real Estate Magazine, a bi-weekly publication. In addition to property listings on California’s increasingly popular north coast, Real Estate Magazine carried stories about local businesses, personalities, artists, events, agriculture, and “other subjects of interest to locals and soon-to-be locals alike.” The covers alone were beautiful and are worth a glance. 

In 1991, the California Association of Nurse Anesthetists faced mounting legal expenses that threated its solvency. To save dollars, the organization contemplated ceasing publication of “CANA INC,” its quarterly journal. Camille stepped up to affordably edit and publish “CANA INC” for the next 12 years. In recognition of her efforts and good will, CANA presented Camille with the Sophie Winton Award for Distinguished Service in 2002. This award was named after the WWI nurse anesthetist who founded the California association in 1931.

Camille spoke at the award ceremony to express her heartfelt gratitude. She went on to express her opinion on the identity of CRNAs, an issue she felt strongly about and that has plagued the profession off-and-on since the 1930s. Over the history of the profession, the identity of nurse anesthetists has ranged somewhere between nursing and medicine, and somewhere on the spectrum of 'non-physician providers.' In current times, some have raised the descriptor of nurse anesthesiologist as a possibility. To clarify all this confusion, Camille stated emphatically: "I'm not a physician's helper; I'm not a physician extender; I'm not a physician's assistant. I'm not ANY of those things. I'm a nurse anesthetist. Why can't people understand that?"

Camille will be remembered for a bracing sense of humor that she used to defenestrate pompous people. “If you’re going to have an argument, first take off all your clothes.”

Craig C. Hathaway reported Camille’s death on Facebook.

Real Estate Magazine (Cover art)

Submitted and written by Evan Koch, MSN, CRNA.