Chapter 18: Travel, Photography, and a Story about Meerkats

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Chapter 18: Travel, Photography, and a Story about Meerkats

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In this segment, Dr. Tomasovic talks about his retirement, noting that he has more energy now that he can spend more time taking care of himself. He talks about getting back into the photography and he has planned several of the eco-travel trips he and his wife enjoy, including a trip to India to see tigers. He tells an amusing anecdote connected to a photo snapped of him during his first trip to Africa: he is reclining in a meerkat colony, with meerkats perched on his hat and hip. He tells of sending that photo for use at the awards banquet when he was elected to the UT Academy of Health Science Education. Popping up amid the formal shots of other awardees, his photo caused a lot of reaction among the attendees. At the interview’s close, he returns to the subject of Dr. DePihno, noting that the focus on institutional growth caused MD Anderson to lose some of its connection to people –a key part of the culture that R. Lee Clark established. Dr. DePinho’s “common touch,” he believes, will help turn the culture of MD Anderson back to those roots. In this segment, Dr. Tomasovic also talks about the human side of R. Lee Clark.

Publication Date

11-11-2011

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Interview Session

Stephen Tomasovic, Ph.D., Oral History Interview, November 11, 2014

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Post Retirement Activities; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Post Retirement Activities; Portraits; MD Anderson Culture; MD Anderson History; Funny Stories; Human Stories

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What are your plans for when you retire?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

(laughter) Well, I'm in essence already retired, and I'm paying more attention to my physical part of my entity, and I'm signed up for the gym, you know Gold's Gym, and I'm going several times a week to that, so physically I feel, that's been about a month and a half now, so physically I'm feeling much, you know much more energized physically. And so I'm looking forward to that, just to get to be more physically fit, and shake off some of the office desk chair shapes. And you know we have several trips planned, again we're all the way out to 2014 at the moment.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Wow, where are you going?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well one in 2014, India, yeah. I may have mentioned it, we enjoy eco-type travel to see animals, and places, and in particular Africa. But we have always wanted to see tigers, and they're certainly one of the endangered species of the world, and so we wanted to go to India at some point if we could find an opportunity, and one of the companies that we work with specializes in small -- we like small group 17 tours. So we saw them offering a group tour for six people with a professional photographer going along, and I like to do photography, and that's -- do a lot of that on our trips, and so that was appealing to us, but the other thing was, it's in the hot season in India. The peak season in India, their national parks and areas where the tigers are, are overrun with people. India is a country where they are, you know, all their parks are you know as crowded as Yellowstone is in the United States. I mean a lot of people in the country go to their national parks, and they go in the season when the weather is most tolerable. But the hot season, where the temperature is running from 95 to 117 all day long, relentlessly, there's very much less tourist and national travel to those areas. And so this company [Nat-hab?] was offering a series of trips, and with small group. But it turned out to be very, very popular with people who'd been to India multiple times looking for something different. And so they're all booked up until 2014, so we've signed up for one out at 2014. (laughter) But next year we're going to the Amazon Basin again, we've been there once and we're set up for that in June, and we're going to Namibia, in Africa, in the early part of August, and I'm going to see family gathering in the latter part of August, and so we've got several trips set up for next year, so I'm getting more active in photography locally, and catching up on a lot of activities at the ranch. Lots of --

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

I just noticed --

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

-- patching and painting, and things like that. Yeah, that's --

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, you have your digital slide show set up, and I just saw this one with meerkats standing all over you.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yeah these are, this is the Dr. Bogler, Dr. DuBois had a dinner at his house, and in honor of my retirement. And Dr. Bogler gave me this digital picture frame, which has very good quality actually, and so I loaded up some pictures from various trips onto that, just to remind me, but the one, the meerkats one that you're referring to is kind of funny, that was taken on our first trip to Africa, we went to the Kalahari Desert, and there were -- this is at the peak of the popularity of the show Meerkat Manor. And everybody wanted to see meerkats, and so any safari camp within 50 miles of a meerkat colony was trying to get people to see them, and we had the good fortune to go to a colony that had been used as a research colony in the past, but wasn't currently active. But the local safari camps had hired a San, S-A-N, man, a bushman, San is the tribe, to sit with the meerkats and to keep them habituated. And so we drove quite a long ways, earlier, when it was still dark, got there early in the morning, when the meerkats were first coming out of their burrows, sunning themselves as you've probably seen them do. And the San man was sitting there with them, but you could you know be 18 from 12 inches away from them, taking pictures of them, and they would pretty much ignore you. After they sun, they set out to forage in their range that they defend from other tribes of meerkats. And they kind of run along the ground looking for scorpions, and bugs, and lizards, and whatever grubs, whatever they can find. And of course they have to look for predators, and there are many -- one of their main threats is predators in the air, hawks and you know other predator birds. And if you anticipate their route, and get out in front of them and sit down, or recline on one hip and an elbow as I was doing in this picture you're referring to, they will treat you potentially treat you like a bush or a rock. And they'll run up on you and look for predators. So the picture you're referring to, one of them is standing on my hat, and one on my shoulder, and one on my -- I think one on my hip, and they're looking around. And the guide that was with us took that picture, and that's been a very popular picture. When I was elected to the UT Academy of Health Science Education, [NAST?], they were going to have a presentation banquet with the board of regents and all the honorees, and they wanted -- they were going to have a slideshow of the inductees, and they wanted a picture of me for that purpose. And I sent them a formal picture of me, as did most everybody, as did everyone else. And I sent them the one with the meerkat and invited them to use either one. Well they chose the meerkat one, and at the banquet, all the formal poses would come up, and mine comes up -- and it just, every time it came up, it provoked a big reaction from the audience. Everybody loves it. And my staff used it numerous times on -- faculty health uses it to encourage faculty to have interests outside of work, and there's even one where my staff made a cartoon of it. And they had the meerkats saying work-related things. And I might -- it's a real kick, I think I can find that, possibly. I know I've got it in one of my files here. I'll look for it for a minute while you're -- if you want to, I don't know if you want to stop the tape at this point, or whether you want to have some other questions that you want to talk about.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Well there were just a few kind of questions in that more personal area, I was wondering maybe if there were any books that have been particularly important to you, inspiring, or transformative?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

You know unfortunately, I had many, many books, but not too many that I actually read. (laughter) I am -- I did quite often refer to the history books of MD Anderson. And you know this one, the first 20 years, which was really a kind of naming places and things, and not a particularly good read, but it was -- it's just a document of organization, departments, and people, and things like that. I found the other book, Clark and the Anderson, a personal profile that Don Macon put together with intervals with R. Lee Clark. Very interesting as well, and in fact, I annotated, I marked several pages and gave it to Adrian Lang to show to Dr. DePinho because I had mentioned that I thought Dr. DePinho was 19 most similar to Clark, and Mendelsohn, and one of the ways was that -- and I'm just seeing if I can flip to this picture, Clark in his younger years was an extremely good wrestler.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Wow. He's quite buff.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yes, he was. And he was an NCAA wrestler, at that time it was the National -- he won the National Amateur Wrestling Championship in his weight division. And he had a choice, he was in 155 pound division, conference champion, national champion, and wrestled at the New York Athletic Club and had the choice of going out for the Olympic developmental trials, or a residency program. And there are several paragraphs on here and his strategies for wrestling that are interesting. Because I wrestled too and my brother was a national-level wrestler. But I thought that was -- he had the choice of an internship or going to the Olympics. And he chose the internship. Well Dr. DePinho of course is tae kwon do, he was captain of the US Olympic team. So I thought they were interesting parallel in that regard, and then there's quite a bit of stuff here in this book that illustrates Dr. Clark's common touch, and personal, you know his ability to relate to people at all levels. I was trying to find in this book, and I think that's where it was, but I couldn't find it, the story that I had heard, or read in one of these books, about Clark at some point after -- when he was here in his early years, Clark is reported to have been going through the institution at some time of the day, I presume it was more after hours, and came across one of the housekeeping staff mopping or sweeping the floor. And Clark is -- and the story is related in one of these books that Clark you know stopped and spoke to the gentleman who most likely was a black man I suppose at that time. And said you know, you and I, together, we're going to cure cancer. You with your broom or mop, and me with my scalpel, or whatever the phrase he always -- I don't remember the phraseology. But you know, that ability, he set that kind of culture in the institution, and I think we had lost a little bit of grip on it with you know this growth, you know we just got too big too fast, and lost a little bit of that over time. It's still perceived by people, what a wonderful place this is and how everyone has empathy. The patients get a sense of it almost immediately, they'll always say how nice everybody is, and how people will talk to you, and how friendly MD Anderson is as an environment for patients. And that was the kind of culture that Clark helped us set, and I mean Clark and then LeMaistre continued, and Mendelsohn continued. But Mendelsohn didn't have quite -- and LeMaistre didn't have quite that touch, and I think Dr. DePinho is the kind of guy that you can visualize you know relating to somebody that way. Anyway that book, and I also liked the most recent one that I helped instigate getting done, Making Cancer History. So those are the ones that I think of most often, and you know I've had lots of business books and leadership books, and things like that, and you know people will talk about this book, or that book inspired their 20 leadership style, and I can't really point to one of those, but I do think it's very instructive to be aware of the history of a very large, complex organization like ours, and how the big things and little things, and people have impacted the organization, and how that might influence the future, and how you might get things done now. I think those kinds of things are important, and so that's my answer to your question.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add at this point?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

No, I don't think so. I think you've covered the ground pretty good. I'll be certainly happy if anything comes up in the future to add to anything that you have questions about, but no, I don't think so.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

OK. Well thank you very much for your time this morning. It is --

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Sure. There's the meerkat picture, but I don't see the one that's animated. I know I've got that somewhere. END OF AUDIO FILE

Chapter 18: Travel, Photography, and a Story about Meerkats

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