Chapter 17: The Murder of Dr. Fred: A Challenge for Public Affairs and the Institution

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Chapter 17: The Murder of Dr. Fred: A Challenge for Public Affairs and the Institution

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Mr. Stuyck talks about the day that Dr. Fred G. Conrad, Vice President for Patient Care, was fatally shot (17 December 1982). He recalls Elmer Gilley calling him early Friday morning, and he went to MD Anderson to wait for the police and the coroner and to handle the reporters.

Mr. Stuyck recalls how calmly Dr. LeMaistre handled the situation and helped calm the tension. He then talks about how Public Affairs handled the media, noting that the crisis brought out the best in people at the institution. He describes Dr. Conrad and explains why his murder was a "seminal moment" in the institution. He ends with a story about a woman who had flown into town to be interviewed for a job, arriving at MD Anderson to discover "bedlam" so she returned to New York.

Identifier

StuyckSC_03_20130627_C17

Publication Date

6-27-2013

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

MD Anderson Past; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Culture; Portraits; This is MD Anderson; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Personal Reflections, Memories of MD Anderson; MD Anderson Past; Understanding the Institution

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

Redaction Music:

Cylinder Five by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/cylinders/ Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Did we talk about the murder of Dr. [Fred] Conrad?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

We did not.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Has anybody talked about that?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Nobody has talked about it. So please—feel free.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Well, you know, here it is 2013, and Dr. Conrad was murdered in his office in 1982, and I’m amazed sometimes that the newspaper never has a “Whatever Happened To?” kind of a story— unsolved murder in Houston. The facts are pretty well known. You know, it was early on a Friday morning in December 1982, and the phone rang at our house and our son was just about 6 weeks old at the time. I answered the phone and I happened to be giving him a bottle so my wife could sleep. And the phone rang and it was E. R. Gilley, who was the Executive Vice President, and he said to me, “Steve, you need to get to MD Anderson as quick as you possibly can. There’s been a—we’ve got a problem.” And I said, “What’s the matter Mr. Gilley?” And he said, “Well, there’s been a shooting. Dr. Conrad has been shot, and I said, “How is he?” And he said, “Well, he’s not living.” And I took that baby, and I just dropped in my wife’s bed with her and the bottle, and I said, “I’ve got to go,” and ran out—fortunately we lived very close to the hospital, even then we did, and ran out of the house, and got over here to the what’s now called the 2nd floor of the clinic building, and I walked into Dr. Conrad’s office area and there was Mr. Gilley and Dr. Joe Ainsworth, who was our Vice President for Patient Care, and a few police and other—UT police and other kinds of people in the area. And Gilley says, “Come in here.” And I walked into a conference room and out of the corner of my eye I could see Dr. Conrad’s feet on the floor. I could see just a little bit of his legs and white coat, and I felt like I was going to faint, just taking this quick little glance in there. So I looked away, and Dr. Ainsworth and Mr. Gilley and I sat there and waited, not long, for people from the police and the coroner’s office and things like that to arrive. And meanwhile, rumors spread like wildfire throughout the institution. And—of course we did not have the means of communicating that we do today. There could be no all-personnel email, no announcement over a P.A. system, things like that. It just didn’t exist then. And I was in that area and Dr.—the phone rang, and it was Dr. LeMaistre asking for me. He—the one thing I loved about Dr. LeMaistre, the crazier the situation, the calmer he got. He was calm, calm, calm. He said, “Steve, this is Mickey,” which I never called him. "I’m upstairs in my office and I wonder if you’d come upstairs and brief me on what’s going on." He had been in Austin and flew back to Houston that morning, got the UT System plane to fly him back early on that morning and had come in through the back and gone directly to his office rather than coming downstairs, which is you know very wise on his part. I came upstairs, we talked about it for a few minutes, and I said, “Do we have a lot of reporters downstairs?” And there were just two of us handling this, me and an assistant. Just two of us. A woman named Joan Chen. I said, “I think you should come downstairs and speak to them and tell them what’s going on.” And he would, and we came downstairs on the elevator and the doors opened and there was this mass of reporters and hangers-on and all kinds of people standing in the hallway, and it was like a fantastic. He just stepped up to the group, and he started to speak. And he expressed in the calmest way our sadness, our fear, our concerns, how important Dr. Conrad was to us, etc., etc., and you could just feel the tension kind of go down a little bit in the room. He stood there for five or ten minutes. He took several questions. He knew one reporter well, spoke to her personally. You know he just—it really helped a lot, and so it was rumors going throughout the hospital all day long. It was a Friday as I recall. Saturday he and I some others regrouped on things. They made plans for a memorial service for Dr. Conrad which was held on Monday in the second floor auditorium. They had a—it was a very nice program. Dr. LeMaistre spoke. One of the members of the UT Board of Regents spoke. Don Wagner, our Associate Vice President who was a friend of Dr. Conrad’s spoke as I recall. The whole Conrad family was there. Mrs. Conrad—and I think they had five children as memory serves me right, who were like from teenage to college kind of thing. [REDACTED]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What was going on—how did that event affect morale at the institution?

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

That’s interesting you asked that question. For a time—first of all, there was a lot of fear and a lot of gossip a lot of the time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I can only imagine.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

But I also saw people really pull together. I noticed it in the President’s management committee, the Vice Presidents who had their different opinions and ideas on some things. It didn’t last forever. But it lasted for awhile. There was a sense of camaraderie and, “Let’s stick together,” and I guess adversity can bring out the worst in people or it can bring out the best, and I thought at least for a little while that it brought out the best in people. But—of course it went on for months and months. The Chronicle had a Sunday magazine called Texas, and they devoted almost an entire issue, including the cover, to telling the story of Fred Conrad’s murder, and many ideas were floated about why, but frankly, I never got it—why someone had it in for him. He was a very straight-spoken, taciturn, kind of guy. I liked him a lot. I really do. I thought he was really just a kind of upstanding sort of guy.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Uh-hunh (affirmative).

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

But he had that kind of military bearing about him. He had a military background.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Uh-hunh (affirmative). Well, I imagine that the fact that the murder went unsolved was—kind of helped fan the flames.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Yeah. And then little by little, people drifted away who experienced it first hand, and I don’t think there’s anybody really that I can think of, very, very few, who are here now who were here then, so it’s—and a lot of people don’t even know about it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, actually when I went to interview Dr. Benjamin Lichtiger, I went into—

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Yeah, he’s a great guy.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

He’s walking me out after the interview session and says, “That’s where Conrad was shot.”

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Yes. Right. It’s now—the office is gone.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

The office is gone. It’s part of a hallway and that elevator bank right there—that’s where.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

That’s where it—I even know the elevator where they took the body out on.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s creepy. I mean it kind of made me believe in ghosts. It was like, “Oh.” It was like the spot kind of glows a little with this history.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Yeah. Lichtiger was around here then. Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Very strange. Yep, yep. Well, thanks for telling me about that.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

It was a very seminal moment in the culture of MD Anderson. It affected us for years and years afterward. People talked about it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why do you say it was a seminal moment?

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Well, because it was just so extraordinary and unheard of and appalling that—you know, people couldn’t get it out of their minds for—there’s another story. There was a woman, and I’m blanking on her name. She was—she came—her name was Donna [Murphy], and I cannot think of her last name. She came to MD Anderson for a job interview as a Hospital Administrator, and she arrived on Thursday. She told me this story later on. She arrived on Thursday. Friday morning she shows up for her job interviews. She had spent the night at a hotel the night before and had come in Friday morning. She shows up for job interviews and walks into this bedlam and doesn’t know what’s going on. What’s that woman’s name? And she said to me, she hung around for all the morning. She couldn’t find anybody, and she realized there were other issues, so just went back to New York. And there’s nothing else to. She said that it was—and later on she was contacted and asked to come back, and she did take the job here. But it took two trips.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. Talk about bad luck.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

What was her name?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s interesting.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, thank you for talking about that. I mean most people really shy away from talking about it. I don’t know—maybe because they have so many of their own conspiracy theories in their minds.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Well, you notice I haven’t talked about my theories.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I know. Yeah.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

I don’t really have any.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

But I talk about it sometimes because I think it’s—well it’s a crime you might say that a man of his abilities and all should meet an end like that. He was only in his fifties—I think—as I think back on it. And you know his son is now a doctor here.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Really? I didn’t know that.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Yeah. Charles Conrad is in neuro-oncology and he’s a middle-aged guy now. A lot of time has gone by.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Hmm. Wow. Amazing.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

You know if it were my dad, I’m not so sure I’d want to be in a place like this, but he’s here and no one even knows about that, and he’s a Professor in Neuro-oncology now.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, well another one of those examples of history drifting away a bit.

Steve Stuyck, MPH:

Yes. Right.

Conditions Governing Access

Redacted

Chapter 17: The Murder of Dr. Fred: A Challenge for Public Affairs and the Institution

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