Sharon Diaz, nurse who ran Samuel Merritt University in Oakland for decades, dies at 75


Sharon Diaz was a young nurse who taught on the campus of Samuel Merritt Hospital in Oakland in the 1970s when she saw healthcare becoming more and more complex, but not teaching nursing.

The epiphany would motivate Diaz to lead the transformation of the small private nursing program founded in 1909 into Samuel Merritt University, a selective health sciences institution with campuses in San Mateo, Fresno and Sacramento as well as Oakland and an endowment of $ 49 million. The school now forms a diverse group of thousands of medical assistants, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, podiatrists and nurses at many levels of expertise.

Diaz, who retired in 2018 after 36 years as campus president, died on September 12. She was 75 years old.

“When I started we were a graduate school and we had no future,” Diaz said when she resigned. “Similar nursing schools were closing across the country.”

Diaz also reflected on a healthcare system that often marginalized people of color, including her husband, Luis Diaz – who ultimately shared a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore and others. authors of a key environmental report.

“We know there is a lot of inferior care provided based on breed,” she said. “It is so essential that we have people of color in the health professions to reflect the communities they will serve.”

Diaz established the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2011, which made community outreach and support for disadvantaged students a priority. With an enrollment of over 2,000, Samuel Merritt said two-thirds were students of color when Diaz retired.

Dr Ching-Hua Wang, who succeeded Diaz as president, called her contributions to campus and to the community “unmatched.”

“Sharon has had a huge impact,” Wang said. “We all benefit from decades of leadership in the development and growth of the university to make it the respected higher education institution it is today.”

University Regent Jonathan Brown called Diaz “a professional of tremendous energy and vision.”

Born Sharon Clark in Bakersfield on July 29, 1946, Diaz was the first in her family to attend college. She met her husband while they were studying in San Jose State, and they married after graduating in 1968.

A nurse, Diaz received her master’s degree from UCSF and in 1973 joined the faculty of what was then the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing, named after its founder, a physician and former mayor of Oakland who gave her name to Lake Merritt. Diaz became principal of the school at the age of 30 and soon partnered with St. Mary’s College in Moraga to create an inter-university nursing program. The college would later award him an honorary doctorate in educational leadership.

Diaz turned Samuel Merritt into a full-fledged college and became its founding president in 1982.

On its centennial in 2009, the college on the campus of Alta Bates Hospital’s Summit Medical Center awarded bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees, as well as a range of other healthcare programs, and was renamed University Samuel Merritt.

As Diaz pushed her school, she pushed herself, getting her pilot’s license and hurtling down the steepest and most dangerous black diamond trails.

“Sharon was always up for a challenge,” said a family recollection, calling her an exceptional cook and avid reader.

Diaz, a fan of Jerry Garcia, has also been active as a volunteer and board member of many organizations including Meals on Wheels, Ethnic Health Institute, Bay Area Tumor Institute, and other health agencies. . After retiring, Diaz and her husband, an environmental engineering and waste management consultant, moved to Kauai.

Besides Luis Diaz, she is survived by her son Daniel Diaz, her stepdaughter Marcy Hignight and her granddaughter Cristina Colleen Diaz of Rodeo; son David Diaz of Concord; sister Carol Lee Blair of Mariposa; and four nephews and two nieces.

Donations in memory of Diaz can be made to the Sharon Clark Diaz Endowed Scholarship Fund at Samuel Merritt University at or by calling (510) 879-9272.

Nanette Asimov is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @NanetteAsimov


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