Chapter 01: Early Life and Education in Brooklyn, New York


Chapter 01: Early Life and Education in Brooklyn, New York



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Dr. Edmund “Ed” Gehan summarizes his tenure at MD Anderson, how he came to MD Anderson, prior work in the Biostatistics area of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)/National Institute of Health (NIH), and graduate education. He briefly talks about his pre-collegiate life and career influences in Brooklyn, New York - including his attendance at St. Augustine’s Catholic High School. Dr. Gehan then details his range of performance on career aptitude tests (e.g. Wiggly Block Test) at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation and how his enjoyment of Reader’s Digest Word Power influenced his decision to attend Manhattan College.



Publication Date



The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Professional Path; Personal Background; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Formative Experiences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


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


Lesley W. Brunet:

You said you had spent an hour getting ready for this interview.

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

Approximately. I don’t know how you do this, but I guess one way to say it is my name is Edmund (Ed) Gehan. I first came to M. D. Anderson July 1, 1967, and I left in March 1994. I started out in the Department of Biomathematics, that was then under Lee Cady [M.D.], this is July 1967. Basically I followed Tom Frei [Emil Frei III] and J Freireich [Emil J Freireich] here. As we will hear later, I started at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in biostatistics working for someone who has since become very well known in statistics, Nathan Mantel, who I can talk about later. He was my first boss. Shortly after getting to NCI, I came in contact with Tom Frei and J Freireich. Tom Frei was, I believe, head of the medicine branch, and J Freireich was head of the leukemia section within the medicine branch. They were in the Clinical Center at NCI. I guess one of the themes that I would mention is that biostatistics has a very rich history at NIH, which would almost take another time to talk about. It was sort of a birthplace of biostatistics in medical research, so I felt very fortunate to go there. I had finished my Ph.D. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I went to the University of North Carolina, but as you’ll see in my biography, it says NC State. Almost every line here is a different story. (Laughter) I don’t know how far back one wants to go here.

Lesley W. Brunet:

Actually, I am interested, depending on how much time you have.

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

The only thing I am really interested in is to go to the Gottlieb [Memorial Award] lecture, so I could stay this afternoon. Actually my wife and I are scheduled to meet our daughter and her two kids for dinner, so depending on your time, I would like to go to the Gottlieb lecture at noontime, but I could come back in the afternoon. You would like to hear some more of the background?

Lesley W. Brunet:

Do you have time to … (?) (Counter53)

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

Well, I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929. I am 73 now. I went to Catholic School, St. Augustine’s High School. I got good academic training there and then ended up at Manhattan College in New York City in the Bronx of New York, which is at 242nd Street and Broadway—a thirty-two stop subway ride from Brooklyn. (Laughter) At that time they didn’t have so many advisors. My father died when I was thirteen. If he hadn’t, I probably would have gone into real estate and insurance, which he was in. But, unfortunately he died when I was thirteen. My mother did take me to the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. They sort of advise on how you should study. I guess I was kind of on track to go into perhaps a business school. I took various tests there. (Laughter) I did very well on two tests and very badly on one other. One very well was a number memory test, where they flash six digits on the screen for about five or ten seconds and then they do eight of these. Then after that they say, “OK, what are the numbers?” The first time through I got about five of the eight right. The second time through I got them all right. The third time through, of course, I still had them all right. So I did very well at that. So what does that mean? They don’t know what it means exactly. That means I did a lot of my work by studying the night before the exam. (Laughter) Short-term memory. Another one that I did very well on is I have always been interested in track and field, and you might be interested in this because they said, “This is your creative writing background.” They said, “Supposing you could run two hundred miles an hour. How would this affect your life?” I am running on the track team at St. Augustine’s High School. Well, I did non-stop writing for ten minutes. I broke every world record that existed. Then they just counted the words. “How many words did you write?” I was more than the ninety-fifth percentile. So what does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean anything, I guess, as far as creative writing skills. It was just a reflection on the exam. The one that I did very badly on was the Wiggley Block Test. They still give this Wiggley Block Test. It is a rectangular solid and it is black. There are nine pieces to this rectangular solid. I guess if you think of the one in the very middle—the two ends of that one are black and everything else is a natural color. So they show it to you and then they go, “OK. Put it back together again.” It was a random thing for me. I don’t know, I got it together in several minutes and I [said], “Well, I’m done with that.” “Nope, you’re not done with that. Do it again.” I was slower the second time than the first. OK. So what does that mean? That means structural visualization you are very bad at. So don’t go into engineering. (Laughter) But actually I was among the worst in that, but then they said, “Well, structural is sort of a complement of abstract.” (Laughter) So without giving a test, you are better at the abstract. Well anyway, at least I knew I wasn’t good at engineering. Also, I think one of the positive things coming from that, and you may appreciate this. You know, what is a mark of a successful person? One mark is having a good vocabulary—knowing words. Reader’s Digest always had words that increase your power. I used to like to read them. I still need improvement. In the end they said, “No, don’t go to business school. Go to an art’s school—go to Liberal Arts.” So I did that. OK, so that gets me to Manhattan College. Maybe it is longer than we thought we would be.

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Chapter 01: Early Life and Education in Brooklyn, New York