Chapter 05: The Leadership Styles of Dr. Frei and Dr. Freireich and Working with the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG)

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Chapter 05: The Leadership Styles of Dr. Frei and Dr. Freireich and Working with the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG)

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In this chapter, Dr. Gehan contrasts Dr’s Frei III and J. Freireich’s administrative styles and capabilities. He mentions the adult and pediatric divisions in the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) and MD Anderson pediatric researchers Dr. Margaret Patricia Sullivan and Dr. Wataru "Walter" Sutow. Dr. Gehan then discusses the politics, group composition of the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG), and MD Anderson’s participation in it. Specifically, he talks about the election of the successor to Dr. Tom Frei III as Chairman of the Southwest Oncology Group and mentions successors Dr. Barth Hoogstrate and Dr. Charles A. Coltman Jr.

Identifier

GehanE_01_20030328_C05

Publication Date

2003

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - An Institutional Unit; Institutional Politics; Controversy; Funny Stories; On Research and Researchers

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.

Disciplines

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

Transcript

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

I guess [I have] one other kind of personal story. Tom Frei has been a friend since 1958 or 1959. He is also the godfather of one of my children. So he has been a good personal friend over the years. Back when I first came here, if we needed another computer programmer, we needed something. I would go to Tom. “We need somebody at the computer.” “Oh Ed, no problem. Yes. Fine.” Nothing ever happened. He never disagreed with anything, but I guess that’s one of the things that have amazed me and you should probably check this out. Tom is a terrible administrator. He has always had high administrative positions. He was head of the medicine branch here. Then you went to Freireich, who was the deputy head. “J, listen, I talked to Tom some weeks ago about this. Nothing has happened.” (Sound of fist hitting the table) “I’ll take care of it.” And he did.

Lesley W. Brunet:

He has admitted that he did most of the administrative work.

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

He did. He did a lot of things for Tom. They were an excellent team. I guess going back to one of the things about when Tom came here, the Southwest Group had an adult division and a pediatric division. Pediatricians were scared stiff of Freireich. He was aggressive. As I understand it, when Tom came here, they were going to run oncology for the adults and children—both of them. But Freireich was going to be the one handling the kids. Margaret Sullivan was a person here. Watsuto (?). If you haven’t gotten his story, I could certainly tell parts of it. He was a great man. He died about 1981 or 1982, but he was a key part of pediatrics. [He was] A very gentle soul. He was one of the good people here in the sense of having really done research.

Lesley W. Brunet:

He did service with you?

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

Yes. Yes. But one of the things they didn’t get was that Freireich didn’t run the clinical studies in pediatrics, either as part of M. D. Anderson or in the Southwest Oncology group. For me was being part of the team, but I also became the statistician for the Southwest Oncology group around 1968 or 1969. As I said, I used to oversee these when I was back at NCI. And when you talked about what are the offices, we had four groups— Acute Leukemia B, Eastern Group, Veteran’s Prostate Group and there was a Breast Group, and I would take people on a tour. Here is our office for Acute Leukemia Group B, meet Joy Schwartz (?). It was me and a clerk—that was the whole team. The grants for these groups were about a million dollars. You might have thirty or forty people working on these groups. Then when the Southwest Group became bigger, our grant got up in the neighborhood of a million dollars, so you could control the money. I was bringing in a lot of money through the statistical center. Frei became chairman of the Southwest Group around 1970?

Lesley W. Brunet:

The notes I have say 1969.

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

OK. I’m going from memory. Frei became chair in 1969, and then he left in 1972. Who is going to replace him as chair? Freireich is a candidate. There is a Freireich candidate and a non-Freireich candidate. You either voted for or against Freireich. The against Freireich candidate was Barth [Kenneth R.] Hogstrom who was from Kansas. This happened around 1972. There was a vote in New Orleans, and I guess the statistical center kept track of the vote. The vote is seventeen to sixteen in favor of Hogstrom. All the pediatricians hated Freireich. The precise numbers I don’t have, but it was something like fifteen or so votes in pediatrics and seventeen or eighteen votes adult. The adults are like sixteen to two for Freireich. The pediatricians are the other way around for Hogstrom. Hogstrom ends up seventeen to sixteen as a winner. I mean it was a total split. And later the pediatric group splits off anyway, but the outcome of that election is that Hogstrom is elected chair. He was very difficult for us—he was a very autocratic person. It became very difficult, and I guess ultimately M. D. Anderson drops out of the Southwest Group. I don’t know year you have that for, but M. D. Anderson drops out of the Southwest Group. Actually Freireich didn’t want to just resign from the group. He wanted to be voted out. There was a requirement that you enter fifty patients a year? I don’t know, some number. M. D. Anderson, big as it is, didn’t meet the patient entry requirements of the group, deliberately. The executive committee votes them out. I guess this happened around 1980 maybe, something like that. We still have the statistical office here. My loyalty then starts coming into question. By this time, a new chairman is picked, Chuck [Charles A.] Coltman from San Antonio, and my loyalty to them, should the statistical office remain at M. D. Anderson, when M. D. Anderson is not a member? I was forced in continuing because it was a source of a lot of my support. We had twenty-twenty five people, something like that, working as part of this. I do remember one story. We were getting ready for a site visit. You know, when people become chairmen, they wanted people to be aware of that. So from now on, all the forms, instead of being sent directly to Houston, will be sent directly to San Antonio and San Antonio will then ship them here to be analyzed. They had on a blackboard a box San Antonio – Houston. And I still remember being at the rehearsal when they were describing this process. Somebody said. That line between San Antonio and Houston, that doesn’t look strong enough. “Oh, OK. Let’s darken it more.” And they did. (Laughter) The line didn’t last long and we lost the statistical center to the Southwest Oncology Group. I could say more, but M. D. Anderson was not a member of the group at that time. There were some criticisms at what we were doing in the office.

Lesley W. Brunet:

Did it move to Seattle?

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

Yes, it moved to Seattle. You see Seattle didn’t have to be approved by an NCI group and I happened to know one of the site visitors that went to Seattle. They have an excellent biostatistical team up there, but they said they almost weren’t approved. Things weren’t well set-up up there. They were approved. Right now, the Southwest Oncology Group is still flourishing with Coltman in San Antonio as the chair and their statistical center is in Washington [State], and I am sure it’s a very good group up there. One of the things I did, as I said, was to bring this two-page biographical sketch, and I think in another twenty minutes or so, could mention some of the key papers in it. My secretary typed it out. I think it would take maybe about twenty minutes to do that.

Lesley W. Brunet:

Should we do that? Do you want to do that or would you prefer asking him a couple questions?

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

What I am proposing is… Well, I didn’t know how to prepare for this meeting.

Lesley W. Brunet:

You didn’t have to prepare, but it is wonderful that you did.

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

I guess what I would like to do…

Lesley W. Brunet:

Would you like to go over this? We can always figure out what we have to talk about this afternoon.

Edmund A. Gehan, PhD:

Yes. This is the two page biographical sketch that you have to have. I have picked out a number of papers that I though have had some impact. As I say, I actually did bring along copies of all these papers, but then you have to read them maybe.

Lesley W. Brunet:

We will put your sketch with your interview so it will be very clear.

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Chapter 05: The Leadership Styles of Dr. Frei and Dr. Freireich and Working with the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG)

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