The senior living industry is mourning the Sept. 22 passing of Lewis Granger Cobb, who died at his home in Seattle after an intermittent battle with cancer over several years.
“There was probably no CEO, in any profession, who was more beloved than Granger,” Rick Grimes, retired president and CEO of the Assisted Living Federation of America, told McKnight’s Senior Living.
Cobb, 55, earned his undergraduate degree in psychobiology in 1982 from the University of California, Los Angeles, and worked in the senior living industry for almost his entire career. He most recently was a member of Nashville, TN-based Brookdale Senior Living’s board of directors, a position he assumed in mid-2014 when Brookdale and Seattle-based Emeritus Senior Living, of which Cobb was president and CEO, merged in a $2.8 billion deal to form the largest senior living company in the United States. At the time of the merger, Emeritus was a provider of assisted living and memory care with more than 31,000 employees and the capability of serving almost 54,000 residents in more than 500 communities in 45 states. The newly combined entity, with operations along the entire senior living/long-term care continuum, from independent living to hospice, had a total of about 112,700 units in 1,161 communities in 46 states and has grown since the merger.
“Granger Cobb was a true pioneer and leader in our industry,” said Andy Smith, CEO of Brookdale. “He had a tremendous impact on the lives of countless seniors and their families and all of the associates who benefited from his leadership and vision.”
Smith credited Cobb with being a “key player” in the merger of Brookdale and Emeritus. “His vision, friendship and energy will be deeply missed,” he said.
Cobb had been named president and CEO of Emeritus in January 2011, having previously been president and co-CEO. His tenure was not without controversy. The company’s size made it an attractive candidate for a July 2013 Frontline segment called “Life and Death in Assisted Living.” The PBS and ProPublica documentary, which included an interview with Cobb, indicated that Emeritus “has long been at the forefront of the assisted living industry” but also detailed violations and accidental deaths that had occurred within its communities. At the time of the merger, Smith said that Brookdale had “looked deeply” into these issues and came away satisfied that Emeritus was committed to providing high-quality care.
Before joining Emeritus, Cobb had been president, CEO and director of Summerville Senior Living from 2000 to 2007. He had joined Summerville in 1998 with its acquisition of Cobbco Inc., a California-based assisted living company that he founded with his wife, Tina, in 1989.
Cobb was a current member and former chair of the ALFA board. In May, he spoke via video to those attending the opening session of the group’s annual meeting, where many other chairs, past and present, shared their insights into the growth of the assisted living industry to mark the group’s 25th anniversary.
Some assisted living communities now compare favorably with luxury hotels, he told those in the audience. Cobb predicted that, in the next 25 years, the use of technology and healthcare monitoring will expand options for residents to the point that assisted living will become an integral part of the healthcare delivery system for older adults.
“Mr. Cobb was a titan, not just for his leadership in the industry, but for his commitment to the individuals he served,” said Scott Tittle, executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living. “Like so many others in our profession, he fell in love with this work the moment he stepped into a community. We will strive to emulate his passion and graciousness as we continue on in our mission to maximize independence and quality of life for each and every assisted living resident.”
Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and NCAL, said: “During an era when more challenges than breakthroughs were following the assisted living profession, Granger Cobb persevered. He held tight to the vision that choice and person-centered care should be hallmarks of any dependent-care community, no matter its size. He not only talked that talk, but he walked it as well—beginning his own journey with just one building so many decades ago. His legacy will endure.”
Cobb also had served on the boards of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care and the American Seniors Housing Association.
In addition to his wife of 31 years, Cobb is survived by two daughters, Caitlin and Cassandra; his father, Earl Lewis Cobb, MD; his mother, Letty; three sisters, Missy Hull, Catherine Potdevin and Melanie Werdel; and a brother, Bryson.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, P.O. Box 19023, Seattle WA 98101-1023. Checks may be made payable to SCCA with the indication that they are written in memory of Granger Cobb. Or people may make a donation to the alliance by phone by calling (206) 288-2070 or (877) 308-3117.