Tom Cothran strode through the glass doors of the Tri-Cities Cancer Center's library and stood among the shelves of pamphlets and books.
"The first thing patients do when they get a diagnosis, they want to learn everything they can about cancer. So, they come here a lot," he said. "We've also had people in here doing research, kids doing papers and things.
"This has been a great thing for us."
The library is a resource for patients, families and the community, and it's one of Cothran's legacies. It was expanded during his 71/2 years as executive director -- a tenure that ends this week.
Cothran, 64, is retiring.
In an interview with the Herald last week, he described his time at the cancer center in Kennewick -- which is a partnership of Lourdes Health Network, Kennewick General Hospital and Kadlec Regional Medical Center -- as a pinnacle of his career.
He guided the center through a period of transformational growth that included construction of the HAPO Medical Oncology wing, home to Columbia Basin Hematology & Oncology; expansion of the library, the resource center and the community cancer screening program; and creation of the Nurse Managed Navigation program that gives personalized support.
The cancer center's foundation also saw significant growth, and is "one of the strongest foundations that I've ever (encountered)," said Jeff Petersen, chairman of the cancer center governing board.
"(Cothran) is a passionate individual. He cares a lot about people, whether they're staff members, patients, members of the community," Petersen said, adding the director has made a mark.
Cothran came to the center after 20 years in the Army's medical service corps -- he retired as a major -- and a post-military career that included helping set up a cancer center in Turkey and several years at a cancer center in Louisiana.
He never had lived in Washington before taking the Tri-City job, but "from the moment I got (to the Kennewick center), I saw how well they treated the patients and their families, and what high-quality care they were giving here at the cancer center, that I made my choice right away," he said.
Cothran gave a tour of the facility on West Deschutes Avenue last week, showing the library, the resource center with free items such as wigs, the treatment rooms. He paused before a favorite feature: the prize-fighting bell that patients ring when they've completed their treatment.
When it sounds, he said, everyone within earshot stops and breaks into applause.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, Cothran said working at the cancer center is uplifting. There's laughter, he said, and compassion.
"We treat everybody like they're a family member. And we get as much from our patients in the way of joy as we give them in care," he said.
Cothran's last day is Friday.
Tom Corley, a former Lourdes chief executive officer, will fill in on an interim basis until a permanent director is hired.
Cothran said he and his wife, Sally, plan to move back to their home state of South Carolina.
It's sure to be bittersweet.
"It was such a pleasure and an honor to be associated with and work at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center," Cothran told the Herald. The work is a calling, and "it's something that I find personally rewarding and fulfilling, especially here."
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald