Robert H. Elsner Passes Away at 86

Author: Curt Wagner       


Robert H. Elsner at a Palm Springs event in November 2019. The former CEO of the California Medical Association died May 4. (Courtesy Alison Elsner)

Robert H. Elsner, CAE, passed away on May 4 after suffering a stroke 10 days earlier in his home in Palm Springs, California. He was 86 years old.

Elsner was a longtime PCMA member who served on the board of directors during the 1980s. “He treasured those years, those events, those friendships, the mission, and the connections,” his daughter, Alison Elsner, told Convene. She is currently the executive director of the San Bernardino County Medical Society.

Elsner’s work in the field of association management and organized medicine began in the 1960s when he became CEO of the Multnomah County Medical Society (MCMS) while living in Portland, Oregon. In 1977, Elsner was named CEO of the Los Angeles County Medical Association (LACMA) and in 1985, he was chosen as executive vice president and CEO of the California Medical Association (CMA).

During his medical society tenure, Elsner advocated for the advancement of organized medicine and the protection of physicians and their practices throughout California and the nation, his daughter said. He was also a member the American Society of Association Executives and in 1985, was named chairman of ASAE’s Board of Directors.

Elsner briefly retired in 1994 but returned to the professional arena to serve as executive director of the California Sesquicentennial Commission under Gov. Pete Wilson. He didn’t slow down after his permanent retirement, volunteering in Palm Springs and serving two terms as chairman of the Palm Springs International Airport Commission. He also was Palm Springs Rotary president, interim CEO of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, a member of the advisory committee for the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, and served in other community roles.

Alison Elsner said her mother and his wife, Nancy, who passed away in September 2016, always joked that he became the leader of every organization in which he joined. He was outspoken at times, his daughter recalled her mother saying, but expressed himself “in a way that made people laugh and motivated others.”

Those wishing to support Elsner’s preferred charities are asked to donate to Paralyzed Veterans of America or Boys Town.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.