By Jack Cumming

We sometimes think of the C-Suite as a place of power and wealth situated in a luxurious office with highly compensated individuals supported by fawning staff. That’s the Gordon Gekko view of business as depicted in the 1987 film, Wall Street.

Thankfully, for most businesses, that’s a false depiction. I have no doubt that there are self-aggrandizing executives who put self before service, but for most leaders whom I’ve known, it goes the other way. For them, the C-Suite is where the buck stops, to quote Harry Truman. It’s where responsibility is accepted, and where vision is focused on a better future for all stakeholders.

A Giving Senior Living Community

I was reminded of this the other day when I visited Monte Vista Grove Homes, a multi-level community in Pasadena, CA, where I spent time with Deborah Herbert, one of the most remarkable leaders I know. If you don’t know Deborah, she is an extraordinarily gifted and multitalented person who has dedicated her career to making life better for those who served in ministry and now make their home in independent living at The Grove.

MVGH, as they refer to themselves, originated nearly 100 years ago when the Presbyterian Synod decided that a place was needed to meet “the residential needs of qualified, retired church workers of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”  Still, today, it retains that narrow denominational focus, though there are exceptions to recognize the broader Christian movement. Roughly, 200 residents are privileged to have a home at MVGH.

A Uniquely Gifted Woman

Deborah Herbert, herself, followed a unique path to her current position. That journey reveals much about her ability to overcome challenges and to persevere in her calling of service. She was born into a large family with a patriarchal slant. Many of us remember an era in which it was not thought as necessary to educate women as it was for men. The result is that Ms. Herbert found her own way forward progressively providing for herself as she earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of LaVerne.

Her career at MVGH began in accounting from which she transitioned through various roles. Eventually, in addition to earning her master’s degree in Gerontology, she qualified as a Nursing Home Administrator. She has extraordinary energy and a mind that can grasp complex situations with subtlety, clarity, and rare insight. That takes gumption. She’s got it.


Moreover, she loves The Grove. She loves the residents. She‘s uniquely qualified. No wonder the Board tapped her for the CEO position. It was a good choice, and MVGH has prospered under her leadership. The residents are the spark that gives her purpose and makes the community thrive. She works with the residents and MVGH’s Board to provide what such a close-knit community requires. She’s one of those near-magical leaders who personify senior living at its best.

Recently, I was privileged to spend an hour with this remarkable woman in her office in Pasadena. Consistent with her dedication to mission, her office is modest. It’s in a house, which my guess is, may have been there when the Presbyterians bought the property in 1924. Entering, there’s a stairway to an upper story on the right, with the stair wall designated as Founders’ Wall with pictures of the early days. Blueprints and other evidence of productive activity are everywhere. Takeaway: This is a workplace, not one of pretense. Frankly, for me, that was more impressive than the most pretentious of business reception lobbies.

A Working Office

Ms. Herbert’s office is down a short corridor to the left. Like the entry, her office is a place for work. She and her small staff are making use of every inch of space. It is a stark contrast from the opulent C-Suites I’ve seen elsewhere. This is a working office where things get done for the benefit of the residents. There was no exercise equipment, no staff rest area, no fancy paintings, much less, expensive furniture. It was immediately evident that residents’ needs take priority over all other concerns. It was very impressive.

Our conversation was equally revealing. Ms. Herbert is doing everything she can to bring the community up to date. Her resident community of clergy and missionaries can scarcely be described as “retired” though they might call themselves that. These are people devoted to service, and they’re not about to stop giving, caring, and serving until they draw their last breath. To support them, when I was there, Ms. Herbert was busily trying to figure out how to afford to bring them the fiber-optic network that a campus like hers needs. It takes reliable connectivity so residents can continue their efforts at making our world a better place.

In Honoring One, We Honor All

I know there are many servants of God and humankind out there who are giving of themselves much as Deborah Herbert is. But, for now, let’s recognize Ms. Herbert for the gifts that are hers, for what she has done with those gifts, and for the active community she has fostered and led. In honoring her, we honor all those who give of themselves every day for the betterment of the residents in their care.

Kudos to you, Deborah Herbert. Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. It’s an honor and a privilege to know you. Click here for an inspiring Reader’s Digest article about Monte Vista Grove Homes.