Editor’s Note: We are profiling the McKnight’s 2020 Women of Distinction honorees daily through the program’s July 28 online awards ceremony. To learn more about this digital celebration, the Forum the next day (which offers three free continuing education credits July 29) and the program in general, visit mcknightswomenofdistinction.com.

Vassar Byrd didn’t start her professional life in senior living. Holding a master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics, she first spent more than 10 years as an economist for the U.S. Department of Commerce, The Advisory Board Company and ECONorthwest.

She entered the field of gerontology as a volunteer certified ombudsman in Oregon and subsequently earned a master’s degree in gerontology. She was appointed to her current position of CEO of Rose Villa in Portland, OR, in 2006, armed with experience in senior living sales and marketing.

A proponent of single-site continuing care retirement communities, Byrd is known for pushing the envelope of what senior living can look like. Since joining Rose Villa, she has committed to creating a zero-energy senior neighborhood, the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and has spoken at local and national building industry conferences about sustainability, the small-house movement and senior living architecture. There, she might share stories of the CCRC’s on-site food compost program, off-leash dog park and saline pool with slide and lazy river, among other topics.

A fervent advocate for LGBTQ inclusivity, Byrd also established outreach to LGBTQ elders, some of whom now reside at Rose Villa. The community has incorporated the concept of inclusivity into all programming, and all workers undergo diversity training.

To encourage staff members to reach their professional potential, Byrd redesigned the company organizational structure to create opportunities for advancement, established an internal leadership development program, and created a monthly team meeting for high-performing, high-potential individuals at all levels and across all departments of the organization.

Outside of her community responsibilities, the CEO is president-elect of LeadingAge Oregon and has been active on several committees of the national LeadingAge organization.

Personally, Byrd’s passion is on the water. At Rose Villa, she helped form the first-ever resident/staff dragon boat team, and she has competed with the U.S. Dragon Boat team twice. Most recently, she traveled to Ningbo, China, to compete in the 2019 ICF Dragon Boat World Cup, returning with silver and bronze medals. She has represented the Wasabi Paddling Club in world crew championships since 2008.

The McKnight’s Women of Distinction program is jointly administered by McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. The program’s Diamond sponsor is PointClickCare. Silver sponsors are OnShift and PharMerica, and the Signature sponsor is Acadia Pharmaceuticals.