A local pediatrician and former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center Children’s Hospital has been tapped to lead the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Dr. Herman Gray, who will replace longtime president and CEO Michael Brennan, is 65. As for retirement? Gray chuckles at the question: “Did my wife tell you to ask that?”

The 1976 University of Michigan medical school graduate has been with DMC and Wayne State University since the late 1970s, when he served as chief pediatrics resident. He most recently served as the Children’s Hospital CEO and – when Nashville-based Vanguard took over in 2011 – as executive vice president of pediatric health services. The role allowed Gray to work on a more national scale with Vanguard, and he remained on the DMC leadership team when Dallas–based Tenet bought DMC in 2013.

He plans to continue the momentum at the United Way, an agency responsible for the health and welfare of southeast Michigan residents – from pregnant women and infants to high school students to elderly people. Last year, it collected $45.5 million in its annual campaign to support those services.

“I’ve been blessed with good health and lots of energy and I can’t think of anything more interesting, meaningful and impactful than what I’m about to do,” Gray said. “I’m a pretty mission-oriented guy and what gets me happy is serving others.”

In other words: “I’m not all that interested, frankly, in retirement.”

In 2003, Gray received a master’s degree in business administration in a physicians’ executive program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

He said he doesn’t plan any immediate changes in either the focus of the United Way’s missions and policies or its organizational structure or staff.

The move from health care to social services is a natural one, he said. Increasingly, health care leaders have shifted focus from only taking care of the sick toward understanding the social determinants of ill health in order to change the trajectories of disease.

“I view health as a holistic sort of thing. United Way deals with creating a healthy community and feeding hungry children and making sure they are getting educated … and making sure seniors are being taking care of in their twilight years. All those things contribute to well-being and better health,” he said.

Outgoing CEO Brennan has been in the local United Way’s top spot since 2003. Under his leadership, United Way Community Services and United Way of Oakland County joined forces in April 2005 to form the organization known today as United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

In addition to leading the organization through the financially difficult years of the Great Recession, Brennan introduced the 211 social service hotline to metro Detroit, a service that now fields 400,000 calls a year from residents dealing with hunger, homelessness and joblessness, and utility payment problems.

Contact Robin Erb: rerb@freepress.com or 313-222-2708. Staff writer John Gallagher contributed to this report.