When Robert Jetland arrived in Seattle in 1969 to interview for the job of leading Seattle's Harborview Medical Center — then a very...

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When Robert Jetland arrived in Seattle in 1969 to interview for the job of leading Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center — then a very different kind of hospital than it is today — he donned a suit and hailed a taxi from his downtown hotel.

But when the retired Army colonel asked the driver to take him to Harborview, he was surprised at the man’s answer. “Don’t you mean you want to go to Swedish?” the driver reportedly asked, glancing at Mr. Jetland’s clean-cut, well-dressed presentation.

The theme continued when Mr. Jetland arrived in what he would later call Harborview’s “dingy” interior. A receptionist asked for his welfare card — without that, a person like him apparently had no reason to be there, he quickly realized.

He took the job, and over the next 16 years he helped transform Harborview from a facility visited only by the downtrodden or critically injured to a world-class teaching hospital.

Mr. Jetland died Monday at the age of 92, surrounded by friends and family who say his contributions to health care in the Northwest cannot be overstated.

Born April 8, 1916, in Duluth, Minn., Mr. Jetland was drafted into the Army in 1942. Amid the chaos of conflict, he helped set up field hospitals and worked his way up to colonel.

Using his unique combination of drill-sergeant focus and warm charisma to find common ground among university, hospital, county and patient priorities, he later helped transform Harborview.

Mr. Jetland became the first administrator and chief executive officer to lead Harborview after the county contracted with the University of Washington to run the hospital. During his tenure, the hospital’s major anchor programs — including the burn and trauma units, and the Medic One paramedic and Airlift Northwest emergency response programs — were started.

“Bob really took Harborview from the old King County hospital to Harborview Medical Center,” said Mike Rona, a former Virginia Mason CEO who was mentored by Mr. Jetland. “He didn’t like a lot of bureaucracy. If he thought it was the right thing for patients, he’d just do it.”

Consultant and friend John Kasonic recalled how Mr. Jetland spearheaded the burn and trauma centers. “He brought 25 people up here, plunked them down and started doing things they had never done before,” Kasonic said.

Colleagues recall the tall, white-haired Mr. Jetland strolling down the green-linoleum-lined halls of Harborview and stopping to talk to janitors, patients, cooks. He gave all the same respect, no matter how hurried he secretly was, said Rona.

“He didn’t do executive drive-bys,” Rona said.

At home, Mr. Jetland, a golf addict in his later years, tended to his family, barbecuing his famous “Salmon a la Ingvald” — boasting his middle name — and sharing funny hospital stories across the dinner table with his wife and four children, said daughter Bev Dorough, of Auburn.

His wife, Bernice, and son, Bill, preceded him in death in 1990. He is also survived by his daughter, Barbara Otte, of Kansas City, Kan., and son Bob, of Del Mar, Calif.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704