by Kimberly Stern | Reprinted courtesy of 435 South magazine
Tiny DJ Boatwright’s tangle of curls, impossibly long, silky fans of eyelashes and perfect button nose peek from underneath a plush blanket as he snoozes. He is snuggled deep into a car seat, being watched over by an executive assistant as his dad and mom conduct an interview in the next room.
The topic on the table is one that undoubtedly resonates with every parent: seismic change—the inevitable major lifestyle shift that occurs when a couple goes from one plus one to being catapulted into parenthood.
Damond Boatwright is chief executive officer of Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Makeba Williams, MD, is an OB/GYN at Town Plaza OB/GYN, and also cares for patients at Menorah Medical Center.
Pre-DJ, the couple was accustomed to a more leisurely pace during their off-hours.
They liked to grab weekend editions of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on Saturdays and hunker down at Room 39 in Mission Farms for brunch and conversation. Afterward they ran errands around Johnson County, perhaps meeting friends for dinner later. Boatwright and Williams had the freedom, on a whim, to book a flight to Charleston, S.C., to visit friends, take a cooking class at the Culinary Center of Kansas City or spend hours perfecting a spaghetti sauce at home (Williams says she’s the executive chef of the household, he’s the sous chef). On Sundays, after Williams completed early-morning rounds, the couple attended back-to-back church services, with a mid-morning respite at Starbucks.
The couple’s weekdays were consumed with the demands of their two high-profile careers and their service on nonprofit boards. Despite their crowded professional calendars, the couple still managed to fit in their love of reading, cooking, the arts, music and theatre.
Since DJ—short for Damond Jeremiah—arrived nearly nine months ago, breakfasts at Room 39 are a rarity. Nights out at Sprint Center, Kauffman Center or the Music Hall are fewer. Book lists don’t have as many checkmarks (for the record—they’re traditionalists—no e-readers are in the house) and the frequent flyer miles aren’t as frequent.
The infant in the next room is oblivious to the instantaneous change he brought to his parents’ lives. But Boatwright and Williams are positively enamored with the new member of the family.
“I love being DJ’s mom,” says Williams. “He’s brought so much joy to our lives. Yes, we’ve had to realign as a couple—we’re still passionate about our work, but both of us can’t wait to run home and be a part of his life.”
Boatwright chimes in, laughing as he describes life prior to having a child.
“We lived as a typical double-income-no-kids professional couple,” he says. “Life with DJ certainly is different.”
Williams isn’t just smitten with her son—she expresses the absolute joy of watching her husband interact with DJ.
“I just assumed Damond would be a good father because I knew his attributes as a partner and spouse,” she says. “But to watch the natural chemistry they have is amazing.”
Meeting of the Minds
Damond Boatwright, a native of Charleston, S.C., and Makeba Williams, from Hartselle, Ala., were supposed to meet during a post-Thanksgiving blind date in 2001, but a schedule snafu botched those plans.
Instead Williams, a medical student completing a surgery rotation in Tennessee, received a very formal phone call one evening from Boatwright, who was living in Florida and on the hospital administration fast track for HCA. She knew what her potential suitor looked like—the matchmaker attempting to engineer the date shared a picture of the dapper and handsome Boatwright—but he didn’t have a face to match with the voice that answered the phone with a pleasant “Hello.”
“So we had our first blind date—which was actually half a blind date since Makeba knew what I looked like—on a long-distance call,” says Boatwright, now CEO of one of Greater Kansas City’s busiest hospitals, the 350-bed, acute-care Overland Park Regional Medical Center (OPRMC).
The conversation lasted nearly two hours—a span of time the couple admits flashed by in mere seconds—and covered topics from the recent 9/11 attacks to Broadway tunes to Shakespeare. Boatwright is a huge fan of The Bard, and has been known to throw out a quote or two around the house or at work.
Though Boatwright was based in Tampa and Williams in Nashville, they had plenty of time to interact and explore a relationship. “Since I was with HCA, and their headquarters are in Nashville, I traveled to corporate,” he says. “That afforded me time to get to know Makeba.”
Boatwright transferred to Richmond, Va., in 2003 with HCA and asked Makeba to marry him. “I crossed my fingers that Makeba would get a residency in the same city in which I lived,” he says. “It was a gamble.”
Williams received word that she had an obstetrics and gynecology residency in Richmond at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. Boatwright exhaled with relief (“We could have done a long-distance relationship, but…”) and the couple married in 2004. In true Boatwright-Williams style, they packed a lifetime into three weeks.
“I graduated medical school, we had our wedding and I moved to Richmond to begin my residency,” says Williams.
Nothing out of the ordinary for this proactive, focused and fun-loving couple.
Taking Care of Business
Boatwright and Williams relocated to Johnson County in 2007 when he was tapped by HCA to be the chief executive officer at Lee’s Summit Medical Center (LSMC) in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
While Williams wrapped up their life in Virginia, Boatwright was charged with the task of finding a house in Kansas for the couple. It’s something that Williams says, in hindsight, she probably wouldn’t agree to in the future.
“He made three house payments before I saw it,” she grins. “He did a fine job, but I don’t necessarily recommend choosing a house solo for your spouse.”
Boatwright has continued his successes as a hospital executive in Kansas City. During his leadership, LSMC was named by The Joint Commission as one of the nation’s top performing hospitals on key quality measures. In 2009, he received Modern Healthcare’s 23rd annual prestigious “Up and Comer” award and was named to the national list of “Hospital and Health System Leaders to Know” in Becker’s Hospital Review, which recognizes select leaders in prominent American health care organizations.
In Oct. 2011, Boatwright was appointed as chief executive officer at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, a facility poised for an unprecedented, multi-million-dollar expansion. He regards his responsibility as the leader of a major metropolitan healthcare facility as one of providing high-quality care, focusing on the physical enrichment and the emotional healing of patients and families.
“My duties extend beyond the four walls of this hospital,” explains Boatwright. “I was at my grandmother’s beside when she passed, and I distinctly remember the tremendous emotions my family had with the loss of the matriarch. That moment crystallized my lifetime commitment to help heal not only patients, but also their loved ones. My job really boils down to this: the care and improvement of human life, and to be a good steward in the community.”
Williams strives to deliver personalized, high-quality care in her practice at Town Plaza OB/GYN. Being a new mother augments that dedication. “Having DJ has enhanced my practice,” says Williams, who sees patients at Menorah Medical Center and regularly gives obstetric patients her cell phone number. “At the end of the day, I want my patients to feel they’ve had a unique and personal experience.”
Boatwright acknowledges his wife’s unwavering pledge to empower women.
“I suppose I’m a bit biased, but Makeba’s devotion to ensuring that her patients are treated first and foremost as individuals is exemplary,” he says.
Has DJ gotten in the way of Williams’ traditional 5:30 a.m. Sunday rounds?
“Absolutely not,” says Boatwright, answering for Williams. “She still does that, and then we pack up DJ for mass at St. Michael’s the Archangel, coffee at Starbucks and a service at The Church of the Resurrection.”
Boatwright and Williams are involved in myriad community organizations. He has served as the American Heart Association’s Kansas City Heart Walk co-chair for several years and continues to sit on the board. He also served on the board of the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce and was active with John Knox Village when he was CEO of LSMC.
“I’ve always been civic-minded,” says Boatwright, whose volunteer record dates back to high school and as a college student at The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina.
Williams, who mirrors her husband’s attitude of involvement, sits on the boards of Hope House and Cristo Rey Kansas City.
“It’s important for us to be connected with the communities we live in,” says Williams. “It’s a reflection of who we are and our values.”
Williams recalls a day during her maternity leave that she and Boatwright spent together, running to the bank, the grocery store, the drycleaners.
“Damond was driving and looked around and said, ‘We have absolutely everything we need here in Johnson County, don’t we?’’’
The question was rhetorical, says Williams, reflecting the attitude the couple has about putting down roots—with DJ—in a community that brims with amenities, quality education, excellent healthcare, culture and endless opportunities.
“Out of all the areas I’ve lived—South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia—the quality of life here is unsurpassed,” says Boatwright.
As the baby stirs in the next room, signaling the end of the interview and time for his dad and mom to return to their respective jobs, Williams offers a final observation about life with DJ.
“I’m not sure our lives are balanced,” she says, “but it sure is magnificent with him around.”
Photo by Jason Dailey