UC Davis nursing school co-founder Betty Irene Moore dies at age 95

Betty Irene Moore photo

UC Davis nursing school co-founder Betty Irene Moore dies at age 95


Betty Irene Moore, the namesake and co-founder of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, died Dec. 12 at the age of 95. She is remembered as an advocate for patients and families, a champion of nursing and a pioneer for improving health care. She is credited for founding a school to transform health care.

Moore’s husband of 72 years, Gordon, passed away in March. Together, they co-founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which committed $100 million in 2007 to launch the nursing school at UC Davis. Through her vision, the foundation led a movement to equip and empower nurses to improve patient care. This was based on Moore’s personal experiences when in the hospital and in caring for others who had been hospitalized. She saw how nurses play a critical role in the delivery of safe, quality health care and set out to improve it by investing in the very people who deliver 95 % of the care people receive.

Gordon and Betty Irene Moore
Gordon and Betty Irene Moore

In a foundation release, leaders recalled her passion for improving the human condition, support of her husband during his graduate school years and her legacy that “best be remembered for her contributions to improving patient care.”

“Betty Irene Moore’s vision transformed health care education at UC Davis, and we are deeply honored that she will live on in our nursing school’s name,” said UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May. “We put Betty’s mandate into action every day: to improve life and health for all. Her compassion and drive continue on in UC Davis-educated health care leaders who are now in the field, providing the best care thanks to their experience here.”

The foundation chose UC Davis based on their shared vision to face the nation's health care problems by integrating the best of health care and scientific practices with multiple disciplines in higher education for nurses. At the time of the launch, it was the largest philanthropic grant to UC Davis and one of the largest in the history of the University of California. It was also the largest philanthropic gift in the nation in support of nursing education.

“We are grateful that Betty Irene Moore chose UC Davis Health as the place to realize her vision of nurses as leaders in delivering better and safer care to patients and their families,” said UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky. “By founding the School of Nursing, she planted the seeds of change here in Sacramento that are now spreading everywhere across the nation – elevating the practice of nursing across the entire profession. Every graduate of the school leaves with the knowledge and desire to be an agent of change for the better.”

Moore’s advocacy for patient safety, quality nursing care and education ignited a movement around these issues. It served as the impetus behind the San Francisco-based Foundation's Betty Irene Moore Nursing Initiative. It is further amplified by the school’s approach to health sciences education, where nurses and other professionals are prepared to lead the changes necessary in health care.

Betty Irene Moore standing with UC Davis Health leaders
Betty Irene Moore, third from left, with UC Davis Health leaders in 2008.

“I think about Betty Irene Moore every day. Her call to us to make health care better, make it safer, make it better quality, remember me the patient and my family. That call is something that resonates with each and every one of us,” said Heather M. Young, the school’s founding dean. “I’m proud to be one of the now over a thousand members of Betty’s Army. She called us to drive real change. Her vision and the foundation’s commitment to and belief in us inspired nurses from across settings and populations to pursue graduate education so they could advance health and improve systems of care to be more equitable and of higher quality and value.”

A ripple effect

Young welcomed the first classes in 2010. She told the 25 master’s-degree leadership and 8 Doctor of Philosophy students that they are part of the bigger groundswell in changing health care. She told them that Moore had thrown a pebble into a beautiful Sierra Lake and the school’s faculty and staff making the first ripple by creating the school and the curriculum. Students are the next ripple and the people they care for and their research are the next ripple, followed by those people they influence.

Heather Young and Betty Irene Moore
Heather M. Young left, with Betty Irene Moore at her home in Hawaii.

That metaphor, and Moore’s vision, still rings true for graduates who work at UC Davis Health.

“As an acute care nurse practitioner in neurological surgery and parent of young children, I appreciated the financial support offered by the Moore Foundation that allowed me to learn from interdisciplinary mentors at the School of Nursing,” said Lori Kennedy, a member of the inaugural Doctor of Philosophy class and director of UC Davis Health’s Center for Nursing Science. “I am grateful to the Moore Foundation, and specifically to Mrs. Betty Irene Moore, for their support of interdisciplinary nursing education and research advancing health care and patient outcomes.”

Betty Irene Moore Hall

The momentum of the school and its programming led to establishing a physical presence in 2017 when UC Davis officials officially opened Betty Irene Moore Hall. The state-of-the-science facility heralded the second phase of growth for the School of Nursing. Gordon Moore represented his wife at the building’s groundbreaking in 2015. Her sons, Ken and Steve Moore, along with their wives, Kristen and Kathleen Justice-Moore, represented Moore at the grand opening.

“I asked mom what she would want me to convey to this audience since she couldn’t be there. And she said, let them know how delighted I am that the Betty Irene Moore Hall is open and that I’m still around to see it,” joked Ken Moore, who along with Justice-Moore engaged with the school and architectural teams to design the special learning environment and supported the effort through the generosity of the Moore Family Foundation.

Betty Irene Moore Hall
Betty Irene Moore Hall

The building serves as a permanent address for the school that fosters learning, emphasizes collaboration, inspires innovation, encourages interprofessionalism and ultimately creates health care leaders of the future.

“The building is the result of the work of hundreds of people with countless ideas shared during many gatherings as my predecessors sought input into what a new health sciences education building needed to be,” explained Stephen J. Cavanagh, School of Nursing dean. “I arrived in 2019 focused on both advancing our mission and leading the school into its next growth phase. True to Mrs. Moore’s vision, we continue to innovate in the degree programs we offer. Each is designed to serve the public need and advance our goal of optimal health and health equity for all.”

A caregiver who invested in caregiving

A tribute wall in Moore Hall reads: An advocate for patient safety, Mrs. Moore invested in the potential of nursing. She turned a personal experience into an opportunity for future health leaders and founded a school to transform health care.

Moore was not only interested in the well-being of patients, but, as someone who cared for various members of her family during their illnesses, she recognized the important role of caregivers. In 2017, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation granted an additional $5 million to create the Family Caregiving Institute at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.

Through research and education, the institute expands the abilities and knowledge of the more than 50 million family caregivers, who are an unseen workforce in the country. Researchers and clinicians also focus on improving the capacity of nurses, physicians and other health professionals to partner more effectively with families to navigate the challenges they have caring for another person.

“Mrs. Moore knew firsthand the joys and burdens that caring for family members can bring,” said Janice F. Bell, institute director. “We are grateful to the foundation’s investment in the Family Caregiving Institute, where our research and education initiatives focus on supporting family caregivers engaged in complex care in the home, ensuring that family caregivers are included as essential members of a person’s care team, preparing them to perform tasks traditionally performed by clinicians, and ensuring health care providers know how to work with caregivers effectively.”

Fellowship promotes leadership, innovation

Betty Irene Moore’s passion to advance nursing with the goal of better outcomes for patients and families spawned another initiative which bears her name. It’s goal also combines Gordon Moore’s legacy of innovation. A $37.5 million grant established the Betty Irene Moore Fellowship for Nurse Leaders and Innovators in 2019. The fellowship prepares early-to-mid-career nurses as collaborative leaders with the skills and confidence to inspire others, enact change and challenge the status quo.

To date, 48 fellows have embarked the transformative three-year journey, including the 16 members of the largest cohort to date thanks to an additional $7.4 million grant, earlier this year.

Ken Moore speaking at podium
Ken Moore addresses crowd gathered at Betty Irene Moore Hall grand opening in 2017.

“These nurse scientists embody Betty‘s desire to assure the next generation of nurse leaders stand ready to advance bold change while keeping people and families at the center of all they do. They, too, are part of Betty’s Army leading the change in health care we all believe is possible,” added Young, fellowship program director.

According to the foundation, Moore passed away peacefully surrounded by family.