Donor honors longtime friend with gift to scholarship fund

Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing supporter Joyce Wisner

With her gift to the Helen M. Thomson scholarship fund at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, Joyce Wisner found a meaningful way to simultaneously honor Thomson—a longtime friend—and support a cause for which she has great passion.

“This gift was an ideal match for me, with my fondness for Helen, and my great enthusiasm for the School of Nursing,” said Wisner.

Wisner and Thomson, nurses by training, became friends more than 40 years ago. They raised their young children together and worked side-by-side to address health-care needs in their community—first, through direct service, and later, through health policy. 

When Thomson retired in 2010 after a long and productive career as an elected official, Wisner and her husband, Bob, jumped at the opportunity to publicly recognize their friend. They did so with a generous gift to the Helen M. Thomson Scholarship for Nursing Leadership, a fund created at the School of Nursing by Thomson’s political staff, family and friends. The fund will help generations of students pursue advanced degrees that will prepare them as health-care leaders and agents of health-care system change.

Wisner and Thomson tackled health-care issues together beginning in the 1970s. Along with other volunteers, they established a free blood pressure clinic for older adults in Davis, filling a health-care need in the community; the clinic is a health-care resource still in operation today.

Through that project, Wisner began to appreciate the many qualities that, in her estimation, make Thomson such an effective leader and health policy advocate. Thomson is bright, an excellent listener, well-informed and incredibly persistent, according to Wisner.

These qualities inspired Wisner to volunteer for Thomson’s campaign when she first ran for public office. And Wisner’s volunteerism continued as Thomson’s political career spanned four decades.

“I always supported Helen throughout her long history of political involvement,” Wisner explained.

"This gift brings absolute joy to my soul."

—Joyce Wisner, a donor to the Helen M. Thomson Scholarship for Nursing Leadership

Thomson first entered public office in 1974 as a school board member in Davis. Later, she was elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors five times and served three terms in the California State Assembly.

Wisner actively supported Thomson as she worked to improve health-care policy for the mentally ill, and to address pain management and other quality of life issues. Thomson authored more than 81 bills that were signed into law, including AB 88, the mental health parity bill, which ended discrimination in insurance benefits for those who suffer from mental illness. The parity bill in California led to national health reform on this issue.

“That was a big breakthrough,” Wisner said of the parity law.

In 2010, Thomson became the first-ever recipient of the School of Nursing’s Excellence in Leadership Award. The award celebrates nursing leaders who exemplify the values and vision of the School of Nursing.

Just as Wisner was a supporter of Thomson from her earliest days in elected office, she was also an early devotee of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. When Wisner learned about the establishment of a new School of Nursing affiliated with UC Davis, she connected with Founding Dean and Associate Vice Chancellor for Nursing Heather M. Young. Together they organized a gathering so that current and former nurses in Yolo County could learn about the vision of the school and offer their perspectives on the future of nursing.

Some of these nurses later became mentors to School of Nursing students as part of the school’s Leadership in Health Care course.

Wisner is greatly impressed by the school’s leadership team, and thinks the school’s model of interprofessional education is a refreshing and innovative way to improve health.

“I really feel like I am part of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing fan club,” she said.

For the Wisners, contributing to the Helen M. Thomson Scholarship for Nursing Leadership was the perfect way to honor their friend and contribute to a school that is increasing the leadership capacity of nurses.

“This gift brings absolute joy to my soul,” Wisner said.