New Board President Mike Ralston and His Practice of Tikkun Olam
“The day that John F. Kennedy’s assassination occurred is still crystal clear in my head. I was having lunch at high school and fully felt the brunt of the impact of that moment and thought to myself: the world is a mess and needs so much work,” said Ritter Center Board of Directors President Mike Ralston. This was a turning point for Mike. Over time, after a few detours into different schools of thought, he began to fervently believe that it was the proper role of government to look after its citizens. “Equally important, it is also at the same time, the proper role of citizens to look after other citizens. We are all one community and a community looks after itself. This was and still is my orientation.” —Mike Ralston
Raised in a military family with two brothers, Mike Ralston grew up moving every two to three years. His father was a naval officer and a flier who served in WW2. “If you want to do things right, don’t take it on unless you can do it right,” said Mike. These were words my father used to say and they are words to live by, as far as I’m concerned.”
This credo coupled with Mike’s attendance at UCLA, for both undergraduate and medical school, during the turbulent 1960s shaped the trajectory of Mike’s life and commitment to making the world a better place. There was a growing awareness that continued to fuel his personal drive and passion to contribute.
“I remember going to an anti-war movement at People’s Park in Berkeley. During the march there were Hell’s Angels, families pushing baby carriages, people putting flowers in rifles—it was a period of awakening. These social upheavals solidified my direction and beliefs. I came to see that there is more to life than thinking about yourself,” said Mike. “There are a lot of people in need, and decisions could be made on more than being told by external societal expectations to do this or that. We all have our own prerogatives, and our own morals and actions guiding us internally, rather than being told what to do.”
Mike worked as a physician at Kaiser Permanente from the 1970s through 2006. During those 30 years, he pivoted midcareer to work in medical management as an executive in Kaiser’s regional offices in Oakland. His role with Kaiser evolved into a focus on quality improvement for all of the regional centers in Northern California.
In the mid-1990s, Mike began to volunteer at RotaCare Clinic in San Rafael, which provides support for primarily Canal residents who are undocumented and without health insurance. He recently celebrated 25 years as a volunteer, an incredible milestone.
Mike is now retired from a lifelong successful healthcare career path, but still very involved in the community. Jewish by choice, he belongs to the Rodef Sholom synagogue where he participates in many social justice activities, both within and beyond the community.
“My own personal belief is that our work to repair the world (tikkun olam) should be the whole world. There is still so much work to be done with understanding, compassion and concern for helping others in terms of all of humanity,” said Mike. “It is this desire to think of human beings collectively that connects me to Ritter Center and our work together.”