Dr. Thomas “Tim” Stover, who has worked in Akron longer than Don Plusquellic served as mayor, retired this week just as abruptly as the city’s 28-year leader.

Why Stover, 69, exited the top job at Akron General Cleveland Clinic 19 months before his contract ended remained unclear.

Stephanie York — both spokeswoman for Akron General now and for Plusquellic last year at the time of his departure — delivered the same message to reporters after each man’s exodus: Neither was available for interviews.

But Stover’s interim replacement from the Cleveland Clinic on Friday may have offered a clue that Stover’s departure possibly wasn’t altogether amicable.

Stover, who served as president and chief executive of Akron General Health System since February 2012, had initially planned to retire at the end of 2014, when the hospital celebrated its 100th anniversary. In December 2014, after Akron General and the Cleveland Clinic agreed to join forces, he signed an additional three-year contract saying he wanted to lead Akron General through the transition, which is ongoing.

Stover has dealt with serious heart problems since the late 1990s, when he opted to change his career path from full-time practicing physician to hospital administrator because of his health issues.

Janice G. Murphy, chief operating officer of the Clinic’s Regional Hospitals and Family Health Centers, will take Stover’s place as CEO until a physician can be found to replace him.

On Friday, when asked if Stover would be available to help Murphy smooth the sudden change in leadership, she said, “My understanding is I probably won’t have an opportunity to talk to him.”

She would not specify when she found out Stover was leaving, but said it happened very recently and was Stover’s decision.

“I knew there was a possibility that things were happening,” she said. “One thing at the Clinic, we’re always ready to go anywhere when needed.”

Stover, it turns out, didn’t stick around to say goodbye to most employees, as was originally reported.

Murphy said she and Dr. J. Stephen Jones, president of the Clinic’s Regional Hospitals and Family Health Centers, broke the news of his retirement at Akron General on Thursday during about a half-dozen meetings with staff.

During the sessions, Jones read a one-page letter from Dr. Toby Cosgrove, the Clinic’s president and CEO, followed by a two-paragraph statement from Stover.

Most of Cosgrove’s letter is devoted to Stover’s background, his efforts to form a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and the introduction of Murphy, Stover’s interim replacement.

“We remain grateful to [Stover] for his work,” Cosgrove wrote.

He ended the letter by asking the hospital employees to join him, “thanking Tim for his contributions and wishing him well as he begins his retirement, and in supporting Janice during this transition.”

Stover’s note followed, expressing thanks — to Akron General’s employees, leadership team, board members and the Akron community — and confidence in the hospital’s future success and growth.

“I would have liked to have said goodbye personally to all of you, but honestly it would just be too hard because of the deep love and respect I have for this great group of caregivers,” Stover wrote. “It’s hard to leave home, but you all are in great hands and I will miss all of you, but I do look forward to retirement.”

On Friday, Murphy said the search to replace Stover will begin soon.

Upbeat outlook

Murphy is no stranger to Akron or to what it’s like merging with the Cleveland Clinic.

She received her master’s in nursing from the University of Akron in 1991 while working at Fairview Hospital, which was acquired by the Cleveland Clinic in 1997.

“I was chief nurse at Fairview then and thought I had to look for another job. Frankly, I figured they’d replace me with someone from the Clinic,” Murphy said. But that didn’t happen, she said, the Clinic instead asked her to stay.

“I told people [in Akron] today I know what they’re feeling,” she said. “But I’m living proof. We always imagine things are going to be worse than they are, but this will be undoubtedly better.”

The Cleveland Clinic, she said, wants to hold on to “the deep bench of strength” at Akron General.

Doug Meredith, a nurse who leads about 750 others from Akron General in their union, the Professional Staff Nurses Association, praised Stover on Friday for making the deal with the Clinic and said the hospital partnership is good for patients and the community.

“We’ve already seen positive things,” he said.

New IV pumps, new ventilators and a new computer charting system is on the way, he said.

“All of this adds up and makes our jobs easier,” he said, “which means patient care is better and that’s a good thing.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.