Former Life West president Gerry Clum blazes new trails in chiropractic.
By Laura Newsome
As Gerard Clum, D.C., retires from his presidential role at Life Chiropractic College West, it seems improbable that his four decades of professional leadership might never have happened if it weren’t for a childhood health condition that left medical doctors baffled. When he was just 12 years old, Clum’s vision deteriorated rapidly to an alarming 20/800, which sent his hard-working, blue-collar parents in search of help for their young son. Two ophthalmologists and one neurologist later, the Clum family had more questions than answers, as doctors presented them with two terrifying potential diagnoses—their son was either suffering from a brain tumor or the early stages of multiple sclerosis.
In search of yet another, less grim opinion, Clum’s father drove his son 30 miles north from their Buffalo, N.Y., home to the Ontario chiropractor who had assisted with his work-induced back pain many times before. Soon, Cameron Cassan, D.C., became like a second father to “Gerry” Clum, and his three weekly adjustments helped Clum’s eyesight improve to a miraculous 20/60. Since that first adjustment, Clum never wavered from his newfound desire to become a chiropractor just like his mentor, whom he describes as a “remarkable person and a life-changing force.”
Clum’s dedication to the profession was so great that the Buffalo-born youngster had already met Sid Williams at a chiropractic seminar before he graduated from high school. And instead of joining his father in the family’s bakery and restaurant supply business after graduation, Clum remained true to his dream and became the first person in his family to pursue a college education when he enrolled at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.
Shortly after earning his doctorate, Clum opened his own private practice and became an instructor in the technique department at Palmer in 1974. A year later, he joined the faculty as a founding member of Life Chiropractic College in Marietta, Ga., now known as Life University. A few years afterward, in 1981, Sid Williams recognized his protégé’s immense talent and asked Clum if he wanted to take the reigns of a struggling chiropractic college on the West Coast, called Pacific States.
With an influx of capital from Life Chiropractic College, the San Francisco-based school became Life Chiropractic College West, and a 28-year-old Clum began to turn the school around. “Some of my fondest memories as president were in those early days when I did everything and anything necessary for the college,” recalls Clum. “I taught classes, I performed management work and even janitorial services. One weekend, my wife and my brother-in-law helped me paint classrooms. Those were really exciting days.”
Though LIFE’s half-million-dollar capital infusion helped stabilize the college, Clum set out to revive the struggling institution with the help of more than just money, paintbrushes and mops. “We took the institution through a series of accreditation thresholds, and once those accreditations started happening, the school really began to take off from there.” During his 30-year career as president, Clum matured alongside his beloved institution, infusing it with his strong work ethic, his sense of integrity and his simple motto, “Never underestimate the value of an adjustment.”
Clum’s monumental efforts soon paid off, as students from 32 states and 22 countries flocked to the San Francisco Bay-area school, giving Clum the joy of presiding over the graduation ceremonies of 4,000 enthusiastic chiropractors who have since opened practices in locations as diverse as Alameda, Calif., and Zimbabwe, Africa.
As Life West’s enrollment burgeoned, so too did the college’s need to expand beyond the facility it leased from the San Lorenzo Unified School District. Leading an initiative entitled Campus for the New Millennium, Clum had the privilege of cutting the ribbon on Life West’s new $30 million, state-of-the-art location, which opened in 2000. Located on 11.5 acres of scenic land in Hayward, Calif., the institution features 210,000 square feet of classroom, laboratory, office, library and administrative and clinical facilities.
When describing the leadership style that allowed him to succeed as Life West’s first and only president until January 2011, Clum says, “I am a hands-on, rather approachable person who gives other people the latitude to do their job responsibly, but I try to always know what’s going on and facilitate solutions to problems when people have a hard time working through difficulties.” These same big-picture management skills have allowed Clum to excel in many areas of professional chiropractic leadership, as he has helped champion the emergence of a profession more dedicated to camaraderie, chiropractic research and a singular accrediting pathway for chiropractic education.
Elected as a fellow of the International Chiropractors Association in 1987, Clum was elected vice president of the ICA the following year, earning the nickname “Landslide Clum” for his decisive victory. In 1990, he was joined the Board of Directors of the Council on Chiropractic Education and later became president of the Association of Chiropractic Colleges. In 1992, the International Chiropractors Association named him Chiropractor of the Year, while
Dynamic Chiropractic magazine named him Man of the Year, and his local chamber of commerce named him Volunteer Business Leader of the Year in 2000.
Clum has also earned a President’s Citation from the International Chiropractors Association and was a founding board member of the World Federation of Chiropractic. Though he recently retired from his role as president of Life West, Clum continues to serve as a board member for the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, the World Federation of Chiropractic and the Association of Chiropractic Colleges.
“I hope I can put the experiences of the past 40 years to work for the profession in one manner or another,” said Clum, in a recent statement about his continuing role with Life West. “I have been very gratified by the many people who have spoken to me about various ideas, projects and relationships…and I continue to be active in professional liability issues related to cervical spine adjusting and vertebral artery issues, and informed consent issues.”
Despite his myriad accomplishments during three decades at Life West, Clum says that with each progressive milestone in his career he pondered the question of retirement; however, he decided there was still much work to do as president. “I was ruminating about it again recently and for some reason as I got closer to 30 years, that number just stuck in my head and I got it in my mind that 30 years was long enough,” Clum says.
With thoughts of retirement and the knowledge that Brian Kelly, D.C., a renowned president of the chiropractic college in Auckland, New Zealand, would make an excellent candidate for replacement, Clum decided 2011 was the right year for a dramatic change. “There was a very smooth leadership transition,” Clum says. “It’s my hope and dream that Brian will far exceed anything I did at Life West, and I feel comfortable about handing the reigns over to him.”
Although Clum is retiring from the chiropractic institution he helped build and nurture, he’s quick to point out he’s “retiring from a position, not the profession. I’m looking forward to changing my involvement in the chiropractic profession. This transition will allow me the opportunity to offer greater attention to a range of activities that I never could address while serving as president of Life West.” Having long ago transitioned from practicing chiropractor to visionary president, Clum sees his career moving into yet another realm of the profession involving anything from politics and management to association work. Citing famous retirees like former president Jimmy Carter, Clum says he hopes his second career will be even more successful than his first.
“Particularly during this time of health care reform, there’s a great opportunity to put our case forward and try to get a better seat at the table,” says Clum, lighting up as he speaks about chiropractic’s potential to move public perception of the profession away from a boutique service to a mainstream health care pathway. “I think the global expansion of chiropractic care will continue to follow the evolution of health care in the United States and abroad. Chiropractic care can play a critical role in the future structure of care, where chiropractors could serve as a patient’s new medical home [where they can] manage their primary care. As people live longer, they’ll continue to have health problems, and there will be a backlash against drug-based health care, with more emphasis on drug-free options like chiropractic care.”
In addition to his chiropractic advocacy work, Clum says he’s looking forward to reading a novel or two, and having time to develop hobbies—pastimes he never had the luxury to pursue as a high-powered college president. Clum is also relishing the ability to spend more time at home in San Leandro with his wife of 36 years, Cathy, their grandchildren and their three children—daughter Cassie, who works at Life West; son Don, who graduated from Life West in 2000; and daughter Lauren, who graduated from Life West in 2005.
As Clum prepared for his retirement in late January, he and his wife were feted at the Rotunda Building in downtown Oakland by 325 friends, colleagues, relatives and well-wishers at a testimonial dinner honoring Clum’s devoted service to the college. The attendees came from as far away as New York City and Tokyo, and included Audrey Cassan—who is widow to the chiropractor who adjusted Clum so many years ago and inspired him to travel the chiropractic path. “It was an overwhelming evening of memories, good wishes, reminiscing and exaggerating,” says the ever-modest Clum. “It was probably the most gratifying day of my life—after the births of my children and grandchildren. To have people come from all over the world was quite humbling and it was great to hear how people viewed my activities and efforts over the years.”
During his emotional final presentation for faculty and staff at the college, Clum struggled to maintain composure as he introduced incoming president Brian Kelly and pinned a Lasting Purpose (LP) pin on his lapel—the same way Sid Williams had placed one on his lapel 30 years earlier, on the day he departed for California. “It has been a wonderful journey,” remarked Clum, when he announced his retirement to the alumni, faculty, students and friends who had gathered for Life West’s annual homecoming events last fall. “I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in the chiropractic profession at this level over these past three decades. The growth, maturation and impact of the profession and the college during this time have been remarkable.”
In his last few minutes as president, Clum delved into fond, indelible memories from the past, penning a letter to Sid Williams thanking him for the faith and trust he placed in him so many years ago when he tapped him to become Life West’s president, and then taking down a picture of his mentor, Cassan, which had hung proudly in his office for 30 years.
Though Clum is looking forward to new horizons and blazing yet another new trail within the profession, he says he’ll miss seeing daily the people with whom he has shared a common path for more than 30 years. “Though I know it’s time, it’s harder to step away from the people than the position—the faculty, staff and student interactions were always appreciated and they will be missed.”
Such statements of gratitude for his coworkers and students come as no surprise for a man who once said he wanted his tombstone to display no other epitaph than, “He was a nice guy. He was a nice man.” And though his legacy within the profession will be amended by a new, exciting chapter in his career, Gerard Clum’s legacy at his beloved college will forever be memorialized in its founding story, which says it best: “His contribution to the college and the profession, both in the U.S. and the world, is unparalleled.”
Life West’s New Leadership
As only the second president in the history of Life Chiropractic College West, Brian Kelly, D.C., comes highly recommended for the job. The New Zealand native attended Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, before attending the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology to garner a degree in chiropractic. As he embarks on his leadership role at Life West, Kelly is currently completing an MBA from Waikato University in Hamilton, New Zealand.
“It is a privilege and an honor to carry on the torch from Dr. Clum,” said Kelly, in a recent statement. “Everyone is eager to be a part of the transformation, which will be occurring over the next few years. Building upon the solid foundation that Clum set over the course of his tenure, I, along with everyone here, am committed to taking Life West to the next level.”
Before his recent move to the states, Kelly ran a vibrant and successful practice in Melbourne, Australia, for more than a decade before serving as president of the New Zealand College of Chiropractic. During his eight-year stint at the college, Kelly is credited with dramatically increasing enrollment and presiding over the college’s expansion to a new campus.
“The transition to new leadership under Dr. Kelly is being made with great consideration and respect for the legacy Dr. Clum has created at Life West,” says Iris J. Murillo, public relations manager for Life Chiropractic College West. “Dr. Kelly has been spending quality time with every branch of the campus. Actively listening and collaborating with key department heads, he is developing a new vision and strategic plan to usher Life West into a new era of prosperity and growth. Everyone is genuinely invested and truly excited about the future of the college.
“Prior to Dr. Kelly’s arrival, meaningful steps had already been taken to lay the foundation for the new president,” Murillo continues. “Since his first day on the job, Dr. Kelly has conveyed to faculty, staff and students in a variety of ways that they matter and are critical to the success of this college. Leveraging his business acumen and leadership experience, he has begun to improve processes and communication while redirecting resources to support key functions and departments. His touch and his influence have been a source of true inspiration for everyone.”