Cover Story: A Fine Family

This is the story of a farm girl from Indiana who met a Brooklyn boy who traveled the road from cab driver to CEO.

Rebecca Ailes-Fine and Peter Fine met during their senior year at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. “It was pretty instant for me, but it took him longer,” Rebecca said of their early attraction.

After graduation, Rebecca moved to New York for a job, while Peter went to Aspen to learn how to ski.

“He had a gap year before anybody knew about gap years,” Rebecca laughed. “He drove a taxicab in New York to help pay for college and for his gas to go be a ski bum.”

After his so-called “bum year,” Peter moved to the Midwest to start his career in healthcare. “I liked the idea of being able to use management skills in a feel-good kind of business,” he said.

While there, he and Rebecca married and had three children, Drew, Jillian and Cameron. They loved their life in Illinois and Wisconsin — Rebecca’s extended family pitched in, and the kids excelled in sports. “I loved the Midwest,” Peter said. “Especially the people.”

Still, when Peter was recruited to become the president & CEO of Banner Health — one of the largest nonprofit, secular healthcare organizations in the country — it was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. So he packed up and headed to Arizona in November 2000. Rebecca and their youngest son followed in January 2001, right in the midst of Wisconsin basketball season.

Cameron — a high-school junior and three-sport letterman — didn’t say a word the entire drive. But Rebecca’s parents were in Arizona (having moved here for her father’s health), as well as her sister and younger brother. Eventually, things smoothed out and Cameron wound up getting recruited to play football at Yale.

With the kids effectively launched, Rebecca and Peter discussed their new roles. “We had a conversation when he came into this job,” Rebecca said. In the past, her community involvement centered around the kids’ schools and sports. Now, her philanthropic work would be more public. “I would go into organizations that had missions I could support, that I liked what they were doing, and just started getting involved in the Valley,” she said.

First came Chrysalis, which helps people impacted by domestic violence, and Fresh Start, which helps women going through a life transition. “Fresh Start, at that time, had a connection with Banner, because Banner had the land they built their resource center on,” Rebecca said.

Nonprofits appreciated that Rebecca was an active board member, eager to roll up her sleeves. She helped start WISP, or Women Inspiring Scientific Progress, which was affiliated with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. “My mother was being treated at Banner for Alzheimer’s,” she said. “She’s now passed, but their resource center was so helpful that we decided to start a women’s group to provide ways to navigate the system — what to expect, and how to react to things as they were happening.”

After some time, the organization became WISH, Women Inspiring Scientific Healthcare. “There is still an Alzheimer’s channel in it and a commitment to Alzheimer’s, but we realized there’s more to it. There’s women’s heart health, gynecological and OB. There are women looking after their children’s or grandchildren’s healthcare,” she said.

She and Peter also supported the Banner music therapy program after seeing the benefit of music in Alzheimer’s patients like Rebecca’s mother. “They only had one music therapist for all of Banner Hospice, and there was much more need,” she said. Music therapy helps patients cope with their disease, reduces stress and provides a supportive tool for families.

“You really saw the connection that music made,” Rebecca said. After her mother passed away, Rebecca and Peter — whose mother also had Alzheimer’s — funded a second music therapist personally, and then made a matching gift to endow the program so it wouldn’t struggle to find funds every year.

You might say Rebecca is the right brain and Peter the left of this couple that calls themselves “complementary opposites.”

For his part, Peter dove into the community, as well. “I was asked to go on the board of TGen, the Translational Genomics Research Institute,” he said. “I was one of the early board members, and was on there for over a decade. Then the Heard Museum board. I’m president of the Greater Phoenix Leadership board, too.”

You might say Rebecca is the right brain and Peter the left of this couple that calls themselves “complementary opposites.” She is gregarious and chatty. His is more taciturn. But together, the couple has mastered a set of his-and-her roles that have helped shape the community.

Take the Desert Botanical Garden. Rebecca got involved with the Garden shortly after moving here and joined the board in 2002. “I grew up on a farm but needed to figure out how to garden here, versus in the Midwest. Because when it says full sun, that does not mean Arizona sun,” she laughed. She is currently serving her third term on the board and has managed their big events several times.

But the connection with the Garden runs deeper than keeping desert marigolds alive. When Peter was fighting throat cancer and going through treatment at MD Anderson, the Fines rented an apartment nearby while he was undergoing radiation. “We would walk across the Garden, as long as he could. He found a sense of peace and the connection between health and wellness and gardening,” Rebecca said.

Indeed, the native New Yorker accustomed to traffic and horns used the Garden to clear his mind. “As a result, we came up with the idea of creating a garden where cancer patients can go and relax, contemplate, think,” Peter said. Located in the historic garden section, the Fine Family Contemplation Garden features a labyrinth, reflective water feature and a line from a poem written by their daughter, Jillian. “It turned into this big thing. It’s been on TV and was in a Disney movie,” Peter said.

Cancer inspired the couple’s work with another local nonprofit. Rebecca and Peter, together with Derek and Amy Hall, are co-chairing the Joy Bus More Than a Meal campaign. “It’s a huge campaign for a tiny organization,” Rebecca said. “They’ve never done one before.”

The Joy Bus eases the struggles of home-bound cancer patients by delivering fresh chef-inspired meals. They aim to raise $5.4 million to build a bigger kitchen and serve more patients, with the ultimate goal of 2,500 home visits per week by 2026. “They didn’t know what they were getting into when we said we’re gonna make this happen,” Rebecca laughed.

Turns out, the Fines’ philanthropy doesn’t end with outside organizations. About five years ago, the couple started a donor-advised fund at the Arizona Community Foundation with the hope of fostering an interest in philanthropy in their kids and grandkids. Each year, they have a meeting near the holidays, when the family comes to visit. “Each individual has to submit an organization they want to make a donation to. We have to approve it, and ACF has to verify that it is a legit organization,” Peter said. Then each person — from parents to children to grandkids — has to present their organization for a share of the money.

But then there’s a twist. At the end of all the presentations, each person gets another pot of money that they can give to the organization whose presentation impressed them the most, but they can’t give it to their own organization. “So the presentations are important because there’s more money that can come from a good job,” Rebecca said.

Over the years, the chosen organizations have skewed toward the environment. “We do lots of fun family vacations with them, so there have been things like saving the sea turtles and protecting the coral reefs,” Rebecca said. The entire family took a trip to Africa last year, and donations went to the Mara Elephant Project, efforts to preserve clean drinking water, and Uhura compostable sanitary pads.

The exercise has a few perks, in addition to inspiring a philanthropic interest in the younger generations. It’s teaching the grandchildren — Ryder, Carter, Skylar and Crosby — how to succinctly present an idea and capture an audience’s attention. It’s also ensuring a sense of togetherness into the future.

The fund goes out for three generations. After Rebecca and Peter pass away, their three children will become the advisers. After they are gone, the grandchildren will take over. After they pass, the money will flow back to ACF for their own programs. “It can be there for a long time. So for us, when we’re gone, it’s a way to force the family together once a year to do something,” Peter said.

Togetherness is big for the Fine family. When they aren’t traveling the world (Peter and Rebecca are looking forward to a trip to Venice with Skylar and Crosby this summer), they spend time reading (history for him, dystopian fiction and YA books for her).

A devoted sports fan— Peter played lacrosse in college and was a certified youth soccer coach when his sons played travel soccer — Peter enjoys talking sports with his boys. He recently took Cameron to London for an Arsenal game before his wedding in February.

Rebecca isn’t a sports nut, but has picked up an affinity over the years. “I would go to sports games with him; he would come to the ballet with me. I would go to more sports games with him; he would come to the symphony with me. He’s a huge fan of theater now,” she said.

Indeed, the back and forth is key to their recipe for a winning marriage. “I respect her interests; she respects my interests. And then we engage around our shared interests,” Peter said.

It’s a formula that has worked for the 47-and-a-half years they’ve been married, and one that’s worked for our community as well. “We’re part of the fabric of this community. Clearly, I am with the company I run, and in these interests we have,” Peter said.

He’s unique among his peers in that he has spent 23 years at the helm of a major organization. “That in itself is unusual in this day and age. It’s been interesting for me, and intellectually stimulating,” Peter said.

And while it may be Rebecca serving on a board, she is representing their shared interests. The Desert Botanical Garden, Arizona Science Center, the Joy Bus, Florence Crittenton and many more organizations — the couple puts their effort into things they are passionate about.

“We are true partners, in all aspects of the word. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have lasted the last 47 years,” Peter said.

Get on Board!

As co-chairs of the Joy Bus More Than a Meal campaign, the Fines aim to help the nonprofit dramatically expand its kitchen, pantry and dining capacity beyond what its current 1,400-square-foot location provides so that it can serve healthy and delicious food to more people with cancer. To learn more and donate, go to

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.
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