When he’s not busy working to improve the quality of life of residents at Sunrise Senior Living’s more than 300 assisted living communities, Ed McMahon, Ph.D., can often be found perfecting his recipe for mulligatawny soup or planning his next trip overseas with Wade, his husband of 30 years. 

A lifelong learner, McMahon, 62, attributes his thirst for knowledge and ability to see the good in everyone to his family, particularly his father, a career Navy man.

“My father was the most honest man I ever knew,” McMahon says, adding that kindness — a value instilled in him through 16 years of Catholic education, he says — is something he strives to incorporate into his life every day. 

“One thing I’ve been trying to do for the past 30 years is to really respect the inherent dignity and work of everyone, no matter who they are. From the people who work in the kitchen and wash the dishes to the people mopping the floors to the people that take the trash out — all of them are doing a really important job when it comes to providing care for the most frail and vulnerable in our society, and are very worthy of respect and honor.”

It’s a message McMahon says he hopes he’s able to pass down to his daughter and four grandchildren. Colleagues who have known him since he started working in long-term care more than 30 years ago agree that he is always one to make sure people feel acknowledged and heard.

“Ed loves people, and he is curious about everyone he meets,” says Andi Clark, RN, CEO and chief strategist at Andi Clark & Associates, who worked with McMahon at both Beverly Enterprises and Golden Living. “He is never too busy to take a call or answer a question.”

A nationally recognized speaker on quality issues and member of the National Center for Assisted Living’s board of directors, McMahon says he’s been lucky to work with and learn from some great role models on both the clinical and operational sides of long-term care.

He also attributes a fair amount of his success to the situations he found himself in early on that put him on the path to long-term care. After beginning his graduate work in clinical psychology at Stanford University, McMahon took a job working nights as an orderly at a skilled nursing facility in San Jose. He planned to focus his research and clinical work on children — particularly children from military families — but, in part because of his job, ended up becoming enamored with people with dementia.

“It changed the course of my entire career,” McMahon says.

McMahon’s passion for pursuing what he loves can be seen outside his work life as well. He’s an expert skier, gourmet cook and collector of fine wines. In fact, his move to Virginia in 2013 required transporting more than 100 bottles of wine from the cellar of his home in New Mexico — and that was after a year-long quest to start drinking the bottles in his collection for fear of them being shaken during travel. 

But if there’s one thing McMahon enjoys more than drinking good wine, it’s The Grateful Dead. He and Wade plan to see the band in Chicago this summer during its Fare Thee Well 50th anniversary celebration.

“We’re total Deadheads,” he says. “We’ve seen them in concert more than 300 times.”

— Amy Novotney

This article originally appeared on McKnight's