Chapter 10: R. Lee Clark and Charles LeMaistre


Chapter 10: R. Lee Clark and Charles LeMaistre



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Mr. Stuyck notes that MD Anderson has been strong because of the continuity of its CEOs. He notes that the institution's first full-time president, Dr. R. Lee Clark, had a solid public relations staff; he also focused on international activities.

Mr. Stuyck tells an anecdote about accompanying Dr. Clark to a television interview prior to his retirement.

Mr. Stuyck then talks about Dr. Charles LeMaistre [Oral History Interview], noting that he was erudite and chose his words carefully. Dr. LeMaistre also improved the look of MD Anderson and enhanced the clinical environment.

Mr. Stuyck notes that paying patients would go to other institutions, but Dr. LeMaistre's initiatives made MD Anderson more attractive, and turned that around. He says that Dr. LeMaistre was very effective at representing the institution to the public. He also contributed to the institution in many ways. One was by making the controversial move of starting the Division of Cancer Prevention. Dr. LeMaistre also led the initiative to change legislation to patients could self-refer. He explains why attitudes of physicians outside of MD Anderson made self-referral controversial at the time.

Mr. Stuyck notes that the transition to self-referral was very smooth.



Publication Date



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


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

Key MD Anderson Figures; Portraits; MD Anderson History; Personal Reflections, Memories of MD Anderson; MD Anderson Past; MD Anderson Culture; Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research; The History of Health Care, Patient Care; Patients, Treatment, Survivors; Institutional Processes

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


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

No, I wanted to turn on the recorder, because I wanted to catch you when you were enthusiastic about your topics. I am Tacey Ann Rosolowski, and today is June 13th, 2013, and I am in the Historical Resources Reading Room with Steve Stuyck for our second interview session. We started at 10:00 AM, and the time is now about eighteen minutes after 10:00, so that’s the segment location. Let me pause for a second, because I wanted to confer with a little bit about where else we’re going to—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

All right, we took a brief pause, and it is 10:22, and we are talking about the MD Anderson presidents, and you were saying you know them.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, Dr. Clark was about seventy years old when I first met him, and as I think I said yesterday, I never reported to Dr. Clark, but it happened that our offices were nearby each other and on the same floor at that time, so I got to know him quite well. I think what I have realized when I look back on things is that one of the great strengths is the incredible tenure of our CEOs, and I think it was a great example of the right person in the right place at the right time. Dr. Clark was really a phenomenal figure, and he had a great grasp of public relations sorts of things in his own right. You may have this somewhere in the history, but I never met this man, but he hired Dr. Russell Cumley, who had been a boyhood friend of his and who was a PhD at the Mayo Clinic at the time, who came to MD Anderson when they were still at the Baker estate as the Director of Publications, I think they called it. It was really scientific publications, because communication in those days was more about professionals than with the lay public, and Cumley was a great crony of Dr. Clark’s, as I have been told many times. There is a wonderful picture in the first twenty-year history of the groundbreaking ceremony for MD Anderson, and there is a dapper Dr. Cumley sitting in the corner of the picture with a shovel getting ready to jump, but you could see the typical PR man getting ready to jump up and run to the podium with the shovel when they get ready to turn the spades of earth. Clark did a lot. He focused a lot on international activities and things like that. I enjoyed working for him a lot. I remember that I drove him—actually, he drove me to Channel 13 when he was retiring, and they did a half hour special, a Sunday morning special, an interview with Dr. Clark. He was interviewed by Dave Ward—who is still at Channel 13—and Marvin Zindler. We were driving back to MD Anderson, and I made a comment about a piece of legislation that had been proposed about establishing a substation of MD Anderson in Fort Worth, and it had gotten a lot of political fire at the time, because there was a town/gown sort of thing. Dr. Clark said to me, “Well, that will never pass,” but he said, “I love it.” And he took his hands off the steering wheel, and he said, “I like them quaking and shaking and being afraid of me,” right on Holcomb Boulevard in his big Mercedes as we’re coming back. But people had a lot of respect for Dr. Clark. They really did. He was a phenomenal force, and I think if ever there was an example of what one person can do to make something good happen he’s the one. I'm sure he was a different man when he first came here about the age of forty than when I knew him, but he was very interested in what the community thought about MD Anderson and worked hard at that. He was quite a remarkable person. Dr. LeMaistre, he was a very erudite and carefully spoken person. He picked his words carefully, tried not to show his anger at any time. He was quite different than Dr. Clark, though. Clark was an advocate for LeMaistre. When I look back on Dr. LeMaistre, it must have been a challenge for him, because he’s not an oncologist, and at the time it never even crossed my mind. But when I look back and think, the gaps in his knowledge that there must have been and his learning curve—of course, over eighteen years he was eminently successful in all of that. LeMaistre did a lot for MD Anderson. The place had a bus station look, which we talked about a little last time when he came here, and he worked a lot on patient amenities. He created the patient advocacy program. He created patient education. He did a lot in terms of enhancing the clinical environment for patients. He added to a lot of those sorts of programs, and it was very important to him, and he made MD Anderson a much more appealing place for patients. When I first came to work at MD Anderson, paying patients, especially from Houston, tended to go to other institutions other than MD Anderson. And now that’s changed dramatically over the last forty years where MD Anderson is the provider of choice for many, many people at all stages of life from all over the world, and it was not like that in the beginning, especially for Houstonians.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And do you think that—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I think LeMaistre contributed a lot to that change.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And with the basic amenities and the welcoming feeling of the place?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

The Rotary House came along during his tenure. He was out in the community a lot. He was a great representative for MD Anderson. Dr. Clark was so busy traveling around the world with the International Union Against Cancer that he wasn’t here a lot of the time, especially in the latter years, maybe always. LeMaistre covered the chicken and peas circuit, talking to rotary clubs and Kiwanis clubs and things like that all the time. LeMaistre also introduced prevention to the institutional mission, and that was not greeted warmly at the start.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why do you think that was?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Because the science was soft, I think was the main reason why. What was prevention when he first started promulgating it? Little more than don’t smoke and stay out of the sun. Diet and nutrition research hadn’t come along yet and many other things, and he deserves tremendous credit for the prevention mission that exists today, because he kept pushing that forward and pushing it even when people on the faculty thought it was not worthy of significant investment. That was important. And the other thing that he did that was so critical to the success of MD Anderson was the patient self-referral, which began, I think, in 1994. It was approved in 1995, and it was implemented. People resisted that a lot as well.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why did they resist that?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, it was a different era, Tacey, and people thought how could patients negotiate our system without a physician to guide them? How will we handle the appointments? How will patients know what their disease was and where to ask for appointments? All kinds of things like that. He identified that as significantly important for two reasons. One is financially. Physicians could be great advocates for MD Anderson, but they could also be a major stumbling block. Many doctors told their patients, “You don’t want to go to MD Anderson. You're a guinea pig. You're a number. It’s a bus station.” I don’t have any numbers to document that, but it was the conventional wisdom that lots of physicians were badmouthing MD Anderson. Removing them as a roadblock for those who wanted to come came along right at the time that baby boomers were reaching their cancer-prone years, and it was a different philosophy about taking care of yourself and playing a role in your treatment decisions than earlier generations. It all came together very well, and we were nervous about patient self-referral, and it was as smooth as could be. Very little political backfire from it. Systems were put in place. It worked out well, and I believe that in my entire forty-something years at MD Anderson that there was no greater fundamental change than the change to patient self-referral. It changed a lot of things about the way we did business and the type of patients who came to MD Anderson. We began seeing more slightly younger patients, fighters, the people who either had the resources or had the will to come from farther away, that sort of thing. It was a great change for MD Anderson.

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Chapter 10: R. Lee Clark and Charles LeMaistre