Slow gardener, fast study
Stephen McAlilly, CEO and president, Mississippi Methodist Senior Services
Stephen McAlilly is one of the visionaries behind the Green House model of long-term care. He is also, fittingly, a gardener.
“I learned I'm called a slow gardener,” he says. “I buy a little-bitty plant and watch it grow.”
Thanks to McAlilly's nurturing, the Green House model has grown from concept to phenomenon. Projects are being opened nationwide, bringing dedicated caregivers into homelike settings of about a dozen residents each.
The Green House may seem like an overnight success, but the model came together gradually, benefiting in part from the skills and values that McAlilly developed in childhood.
He was born in Tupelo, MS, in 1955. His father was a Methodist preacher who called his flock — and family — to lives of service. His mother made sure that her three children put these principles into practice, McAlilly says.
After attending Millsaps College in Jackson, he went to the University of Mississippi law school. When he graduated, his father gave him the book “Servant Leadership.” The author's name, Robert K. Greenleaf, also conjures nature, and McAlilly says the book “planted the seed” of his career.
But he didn't sprout immediately into a long-term care pioneer. For 14 years, he served as a lawyer in Meridian, MS. He also wed his high school sweetheart and had three sons: Lee, Ben and Sam.
When Methodist Senior Services built a retirement home in Meridian, he provided free legal work.
“I got more and more involved as a volunteer and joined its board of directors and became the chairman of the board,” McAlilly explains. When the CEO retired in 1994, McAlilly moved back to his birthplace, Tupelo, to take the company reins.
“I was totally outside the field,” he now marvels.
But he proved a fast study and, as an outsider, could look beyond the senior care status quo. He met a kindred spirit in Bill Thomas, M.D., who conceived the Green House model.
“I heard him at a conference,” McAlilly says. “Sent him an email the next week and about a week later, he called.”
McAlilly is characteristically modest about his contributions to the first Green House project, which opened 10 years ago. But Green House Chief Operating Officer Susan Frazier does not hesitate to give him ample credit.
“He demonstrated you can work through the regulatory challenges, the capital challenges,” Frazier says. She calls him a “profound leader” who is warm and gracious, and known by all the direct care staff.
McAlilly says the “great adventure” of the Green House taught him how to “move forward without knowing all the answers.”
Now 58, he is still moving forward, guiding MSS into new frontiers, emphasizing innovative home care. After a divorce, he remarried last year and is planning a trip to the Grand Tetons with his sons, who share his love of nature.
Despite earning a raft of awards, McAlilly remains a humble servant leader — and, in slow gardening style, is not getting ahead of himself.
“I can't save the whole world,” he says, “but in my little niche I hope I can make a difference.”
Earns a bachelor of science degree from Millsaps College
Graduates from the University of Mississippi School of Law, begins practicing at the firm Williams & Glover
Becomes CEO and president of Mississippi Methodist Senior Services Inc.
Leads MMSS to Eagle accreditation, a prestigious recognition for healthcare providers operating in a Christian framework
Spearheads the first Green House residences, at MMSS' Traceway in Tupelo location
Receives Mississippi Health Care Association's Pioneer and Otterbein Homes' Distinguished Service to Aging award
Earns LeadingAge's Award of Honor