1. Lewenson, Sandra B. EdD, RN, FAAN
  2. Graham-Perel, Ashley MEd, RN, NPD-BC, CNE

Article Content

Bernardine Mays Lacey, a trailblazing nursing leader, advocate, researcher, educator, and mentor, died on March 26 at age 88. During her 60-year career, Lacey held several notable positions, including founding dean and professor at Western Michigan University's School of Nursing in Kalamazoo and special assistant to Marian Wright Edelman at the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, DC. She helped found Federal City Shelter in Washington, DC-one of the first nurse-managed health clinics for the homeless. She was proud of her accomplishments, especially those that supported others in nursing and health care.

Figure. Photo courte... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Photo courtesy of Sandra B. Lewenson.

Lacey was recognized by the nursing community for her many achievements. In 1990 she was inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, which named her a Living Legend in 2014. Western Michigan University established an endowed chair in community health nursing in her honor in 1998. Lacey received the R. Louise McManus Medal from the Nursing Education Alumni Association of Teachers College, Columbia University, and the American Nurses Association's Pearl McIver Public Health Nurse Award. She was also awarded more than $2 million in grants for her work, including her efforts to improve health care for residents of homeless shelters and to support diverse students in nursing education.


Lacey was born in 1932 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. During much of her early childhood and adult years, racial segregation existed as an accepted norm. She was one of the few Black students to be admitted to the Gilfoy School of Nursing at Mississippi Baptist Hospital in Jackson, which she attended from 1959 to 1962. Lacey acknowledged in a recent oral history interview the disparaging harshness she experienced (see '"You Don't Have Any Business Being This Good': An Oral History Interview with Bernardine Lacey," Special Feature, August 2020). She described, for instance, how Black nursing students were forced to sit in the back of the class and often had separate clinical experiences from White students. Lacey openly shared her experiences with racism and discussed how her resiliency and the support of her family, friends, and mentors helped her move beyond the limits imposed by racist attitudes and practices.


Lacey earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Georgetown University, a master's degree in sociology from Howard University, and a doctoral degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her education, experience, and wisdom enriched the lives of many, including her students and colleagues. Always a health care advocate, Lacey used her story to spark conversations about diversity and inclusion. She had a sincerity that nurtured many of us in nursing today, and she frequently reminded us of the need to appreciate one's family and one's work. She was tireless-forever involved in the nursing profession and keeping her finger on its pulse. She will be sorely missed.-Sandra B. Lewenson, EdD, RN, FAAN, and Ashley Graham-Perel, MEd, RN, NPD-BC, CNE