Sandi Cutler, former board of trustees member and vice-president for institutional planning and external affairs for Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, passed away on July 3, 2014, at the age of 63. A community organizer with strong gifts for strategy, planning, and networking, Cutler dedicated his career to improving the life and health of those around him.
Born on November 20, 1950, in San Jose, California, Cutler’s parents first instilled in him the concept of social justice and equality as they fought to desegregate California’s public schools. A natural marketer, he began his career in the 1970s applying direct marketing techniques and the use of inquiry management systems for corporate clients. In the ’80s, Cutler worked as a political consultant for a number of campaigns for local politicians, ensuring that underrepresented communities maintained their voices in government. After relocating to the Seattle area, he served as a senior political consultant and earned a master of arts degree in organizational development from Bastyr University, then known as John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine.
In 1984, he began working as a volunteer fundraiser for Bastyr; he became a member of the board of trustees in 1985. In 1990, Cutler joined the management staff at Bastyr, and under his leadership and guidance, enrollment grew from approximately 150 students to more than 1,300. This association with the school would ultimately lead to a period of unprecedented growth and change for the institution. Cutler further solidified his position as a strategic leader in natural medicine and healthcare by overseeing the expansion of DeVry Education Group’s medical program.
“Sandi’s impact was huge, hard to adequately describe,” wrote Joseph Pizzorno, ND, founding president of Bastyr University (email, August 21, 2014). “He was integral to Bastyr’s maintaining academic accreditation when critics tried to repeal it, and he was responsible for Bastyr’s becoming the first NIH [National Institutes of Health]-funded center for alternative medicine research, the purchase of the beautiful 40-acre campus outside of Seattle, licensing of NDs [naturopathic doctors] in California, the remarkable almost tripling of enrollment in the 1990s—the list of his contributions to Bastyr is long.”
“[W]e worked intensely together … with Joe [Pizzorno] in assembling a white paper for the US Congress during the Clinton health reform in 1993,” wrote John Weeks, editor of the Integrator Blog News and Reports and former vice president of Bastyr (email, September 5, 2014). “Sandi offered just the right look, feel, and content directions to make that document powerful. It was the first significant introduction to naturopathic medicine for the 45 members of the US House and the US Senate from the then 8 states that licensed naturopathic doctors. Sandi’s wisdom guided its development.”
Cutler held a number of positions at Bastyr in his 14 years with the institution, including senior counsel, director of planning and special programs, vice-president for external affairs, and vice-president for finance and administration. “Sandi was a brilliant strategic and tactical thinker who helped everyone in the University be more thoughtful and effective,” wrote Dr. Pizzorno.
Along with former Bastyr President Thomas Shepherd, DHA, Cutler was involved in the successful efforts to establish licensure for naturopathic physicians in California in 2003. He also worked with Dr. Shepherd at Ross Medical School in New Jersey following Dr. Shepherd’s resignation from Bastyr.
After Cutler left Bastyr in 2005, he maintained a professional interest in public policy concerning alternative and complementary healthcare, which was manifested by serving as board president and executive director of Citizens for Health, a consumer natural health advocacy group, and by representing Bastyr University for the Campaign for Better Health.
“A quiet person with loud influence, Sandi was an invaluable member of the Board of Directors at Citizens for Health as we navigated the challenges to DSHEA [Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994] implementation, organic regulations, and a myriad of issues around access, choice, and information in natural health,” wrote Susan Haeger, former president and CEO of Citizens for Health (email, October 11, 2014). “Sandi could always be counted on to think through knotty problems and find elegant solutions. A trusted friend, he was always ready for mischief-making and could be counted on to find humor and heart in the drama of life.”
In 2012, Cutler joined the nonprofit organization Solid Ground as its chief operations and strategy officer, a position he held until the time of his death. Solid Ground is an advocacy group that addresses homelessness, poverty, and inequality in Washington state’s King County. “[Cutler] was at heart a gifted community organizer who believed that it was a successful day only if he had helped make the world a better place,” wrote Mike Buchman, communications director at Solid Ground.1
“I was struck by how often ‘best friend,’ ‘trusted adviser,’ [and] ‘trustworthy’ came up,” Dr. Pizzorno wrote of the remembrances of Cutler by friends and colleagues. “He was remarkable in establishing relationships with an incredible diversity of individuals and organizations.”
“Sandi Cutler was one of the most complex persons I have ever known and the gift of that complexity was his ability to reach out and touch so many different people,” wrote Peggy Brevoort, a member of the board of directors of Bastyr University and board of trustees of the American Botanical Council. “No matter how you knew Sandi, you would always be assured that you could sit and have a wonderful personal conversation and oftentimes find that the ideas flowing from that conversation would manifest for you and him in ways neither one of you had imagined.”
Cutler is survived by his wife, Janna Rome, MS, LAc, and sons Geoff, Josh, Danny, and Abe. Bastyr University held a memorial service to celebrate his life on July 27, 2014, at the campus chapel.
- Buchman M. In memory: Sandi Cutler. Solid Ground Blog. July 9, 2014. Available at: https://solidgroundblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/in-memory-sandi-cutler/. Accessed September 3, 2014.