Knowing When to Leave is the Hardest Part

Mimi Dunne DCI 2019

(DCI 2019)

A leader in palliative medicine in New York’s Hudson Valley, Mimi Dunne is engaged in innovation to address suffering and improve the care of the dying.

When the Covid pandemic arrived in the spring of 2019, Mimi and her DCI cohort experienced an unexpected detour. Together they met this challenge with much innovation and improvisation. 

In her post-DCI years, Mimi continues to seek opportunities for growth and development.



When you ask Mary Laurence Dunne MD, “Mimi” to her friends, what influenced her choices in life, you are likely to get a surprising answer. I asked Mimi this question and without hesitation she told me the song, Knowing When to Leave, by Burt Bacharach. In particular, the line, “Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing anyone can learn.”

“The song, a Broadway throwback, was the subject of my first conversation about DCI with Phil Pizzo,” she said. “Phil had published a 2017 opinion essay, Navigating Transitions and Charting  New Paths, on that very theme. My medical career taught me not to take life and health for granted, and to prepare for the future. After twenty years spent building a palliative care program, I was ready for exploration and growth. Our daughter Catharine was launched; Jack and I had downsized at home and at work. Our goal was to create a “lock up and leave” lifestyle, though we weren’t yet sure where we were going.”

Mimi looked at her options and decided the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute was the answer. Her husband Jack Keene, a physician entrepreneur, was equally excited about the transition. 

“Who makes 40 new friends in maturity?” she marvels about their 2019 DCI cohort. “More than friends: fellow pilgrims. The generosity of spirit extends throughout the DCI community and continues beyond the academic year.”

Mimi poses with Jordan Oakes (Stanford 2021), whom she became acquainted with while taking an art history class together. Photo by Rocky Blumhagen (DCI 2019)


Once at Stanford, Mimi was determined to explore broadly. Her favorite courses included French conversation, How to Look at Art and Why with Alexander Nemerov, Longevity with Laura Carstensen, Winning Writing with Glenn Kramon, Rock, Sex, and Rebellion with Mark Applebaum, and Africa Table, a weekly lunch lecture series featuring speakers from around the world. But serendipity led her back to medicine. 

Mimi attended a 2019 Stanford conference, Reclaiming the Legacy of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, celebrating the donation of the iconic Swiss-American psychiatrist’s archives to the Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections. There she met documentary filmmaker Maren Monsen, M.D., of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, which led to volunteering as Maren’s research assistant to curate the video archives. Mimi recalls being inspired as an undergraduate by a course based on the groundbreaking 1969 Kübler-Ross book, On Death and Dying.

“It’s been a humbling privilege and a full-circle experience,” Mimi reflected. “The video footage is so vibrant. It’s like accompanying Elisabeth at the University of Chicago 50 years ago.”

As the academic year of 2019-2020 approached Spring Quarter, the reality of Covid pushed courses online. DCI Founding Director Phil Pizzo, an infectious disease specialist, regularly updated DCI staff, Fellows, and Partners on the latest science of Covid. In addition to their Stanford courses, Mimi and Jack supported their New York hospital’s Covid units, covering weekends via phone and telemedicine to assist on-ground colleagues during the surge.

“We were very grateful to be at Stanford at the start of the pandemic,” Mimi said. “In addition to Phil’s expertise and the support of our DCI cohort, the University and Santa Clara County moved quickly to protect the campus and the community.

Reflections on Life After DCI 

What next? After one short year, she became a research assistant, an advisor to an artificial intelligence start-up, a Stanford co-instructor, a TechStars mentor, a DCI Writes presenter and participant, and a Longevity Design Challenge Advisor. Not to mention a friend and colleague, and a mentor to a variety of students.

“The opportunities for engagement in the collaborative culture of Stanford are rich and varied. There are so many open doors. It’s extraordinary.”

So as the Bacharach song continues,  “Sail when the wind starts to blow . . .”  Mimi recently enrolled in Stanford’s Master in Liberal Arts program, a four-year commitment.

“I’m dazzled by the Stanford community. I was an English major before pre-med studies, and there is so much to explore.”

Written by Donna Slade (DCI 2017)

Debbie Dean with
Mimi always seizes opportunities to serve – shown here with her DCI colleagues assisting the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. Left to right: Mimi Dunne, Brandi Barker, Chris Deyo, Silvia Barbara, and Anne Makepeace.