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Kimberly Fuson loves the water. She loved living near the beach in San Diego. She loved living in Maui. She traveled the world, dipping her toes in the surf of every beach she could find. She surfed, she snorkeled, she scuba dived.

And then she came back to landlocked Portland, the place where she grew up a kippah’s toss from what in her childhood was the Robison Jewish Home and is now known as Cedar Sinai Park. She took over the organization she had left in 2013 after more than 12 years, including a stint as Chief Operating Officer, to pursue other challenges. 

It was time to come home.

It was time, and then there was COVID.

What had been an exciting challenge became an excruciating challenge. Yet on some level, it makes cosmic sense.

I believe we are all in the right place at the right time. We plan and God laughs, and God gives us exactly what we need when we need it.

When she returned to CSP as Chief Executive Officer in August 2019, first as an interim hire, then with the full job title and all the headaches and joys that came with it, she plunged headlong into the life of the place.

She moved into a one-bedroom apartment at Rose Schnitzer Manor and lived there for 10 months before decamping to a South Waterfront condo with a view of her beloved water, in this case the Willamette River.

COVID hit less than a week after she signed her contract to become the permanent CEO. There was only one word for the timing and the event:

“It has been surreal,” she says, “like nothing any of us ever anticipated. It’s been a test of faith. It’s been a test of ability to balance.”

She sees her gifts as God’s gifts: “I’m an instrument.” But she didn’t do it alone. She says she’s happy to avoid the spotlight, instead turning the bright beam on her staff.

It has been surreal – like nothing any of us ever anticipated. It’s been a test of faith. It’s been a test of ability to balance.

“The team came together from the get-go,” she says. “Things were changing so rapidly at the beginning, and the team developed a very instant trust.” She likened it to kosher cooking: “add chicken broth and mix.”

Everybody has a job with parameters and responsibilities, but that’s not the real work in an organization such as the one she leads. “The real work is an exchange of energy,” the understanding that life has meaning and that the team is a part of that.

The basis for everything is trust. In her universe, everybody—(from the board of trustees to the residents of all CSP’s facilities, to the staff)—trusts one another. Everyone relies on one another. And yet everyone is an independent actor with his or her own accountabilities.

She sees it as a major part of her role and responsibility “to make sure everybody knows how bright their light is.”

In the depths of the COVID crisis, she kept that in mind, “that spark of soul, that spark of spirit that connects us to each other.” Even when her people were tired or frustrated and the days of isolation stretched on forever, that spark was never extinguished.

There was never a time day or night that we couldn’t communicate with one another. Being here with all the residents, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, gave myself and the residents a measure of comfort.

She valued her time of living on campus, getting to know the residents and the rhythm of life at RSM. An example: “there was never a time day or night that we couldn’t communicate with one another. Being here with all the residents, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, gave myself and the residents a measure of comfort.”

As for her personal life, she was married but is no longer. As the cliché goes, she’s married to her work. Plus, “I’m a great auntie.” She loves animals but won’t keep a pet because she’s not home enough.

She does make time for music—“everything except hard-core country”—and she has a special fondness for Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of “Come Aquile” (Like an Eagle).

She power-walks 25 to 30 miles a week, practices yoga, does strength training, goes to the beach when she can. But no concerts or other gatherings. There’s a pandemic going on.

She describes her spiritual practice as “a very personal relationship with God,” Judaism with a large measure of mindfulness. She lives in the present—when she’s dealing with individuals. Otherwise, she says, she likes to daydream about possibilities.

Dreams, daydreams, memories. Portland as it was in her childhood and as it is now. Life as it was before COVID and as it is now. The arc of Kimberly Fuson’s life stretches, like a rainbow, from one to the other.

Written by Fran Gardner

Fran Gardner is a retired journalist and a resident of Rose Schnitzer Manor.

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