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When I first met Orin Smith at his Starbucks office, he took time to serve me one of the best cups of coffee ever. While his pride in the coffee was apparent, he never lost sight of the fact that the true measure of a company’s greatness is how well it serves its employees and communities.

Orin joined Starbucks in 1990 before it was a public company and – along with founder Howard Schulz and fellow executive Howard Behar – presided over its tremendous growth, including five years as president and CEO from 2000 to 2005. His much too early death last week at age 75 from pancreatic cancer leaves a void not only at the company that he helped build but also for all of us who benefited from his wise counsel and generosity.

Orin was a member of the UW Medicine Board from 2000 to 2009 and served as Board Chair from 2006 to 2009. In these roles, he brought the rigor of an outstanding business leader to our strategic planning and made sure that providing patients with excellent care was always top of mind. He was passionate about our mission to improve the health of the public. For Orin, business decisions needed to be based on our values of respect for all people and our commitment to healthcare equity, diversity and inclusion.

With his wife, Janet, Orin was a generous philanthropist. He was a major contributor to the development of our South Lake Union campus. He also hosted dinners at his home where donors could learn about our advances in stem cell research and become supporters of these and other medical breakthroughs.

Orin’s connection to the UW began in his student days as a member of the class of 1965. In addition to serving on the UW Medicine Board, he contributed to the University as a regent, campaign general chair, and member and chair of the UW Foundation Board and the Foster School Advisory Board. UW President Ana Mari Cauce called him “a visionary leader and passionate advocate in our community whose love for the University of Washington transformed so many lives.”

As news of Orin’s death spread last week, the full measure of a life well-lived became apparent from the tributes of business and community leaders around the world. Perhaps, though, the most meaningful tribute comes from the small town where Orin grew up in humble surroundings.

In Chehalis, Washington, which is now home to the Orin Smith Intermediate School and the Orin Smith Commemorative Way, he was remembered for his volunteer leadership and for his family’s generosity in donating to a new library (named after his mother) and in providing a major gift to the Chehalis Foundation that will give the city’s youth opportunities to follow in his footsteps by succeeding in school and beyond.

On behalf of the UW Medicine Board, I want to extend our deepest sympathy to Orin’s family. I will always remember — and greatly miss — his friendship and his thoughtfulness, wisdom and personal integrity.


Paul G. Ramsey, MD
CEO, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington

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