Chapter 02: Memories of a Small MD Anderson and R. Lee Clark

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Chapter 02: Memories of a Small MD Anderson and R. Lee Clark

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Description

In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn shares memories of a much smaller-scale MD Anderson on his arrival. He also shares recollections of the "visionary" Dr. R. Lee Clark.

Identifier

Ahearn,MJ_01_20110802_S02

Publication Date

8-2-2011

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - MD Anderson Past; Portraits; This is MD Anderson; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Culture

Disciplines

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

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So how did you find MD Anderson when you came here, and what...? I’d like to get a portrait of what it was like: the atmosphere, the teaching, the research environment...

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, as you can imagine, it’s quite different today. We were much smaller then. The first day I came they were building the what we called the Bates-Freeman Wing at that time, which was an addition for research. It’s the Legett Building now. But when I got home the first day my wife, who is a native Houstonian, asked me, “Well, what did you think about it?” And I said, “Well, it’s a fabulous place.” And I said, “As soon as they take that construction fence down, it’s going to be beautiful.” Well, that construction fence never came down. It just kept being moved from one spot to the other as the institution continued to grow, but it was... I always get a laugh when I say that we had uniformed elevator operators when I came to Anderson, because we only had one bank of elevators, and the ones that took patients to surgery had a back door to it, and the other two elevators in the central core area were for passengers, and the third one was for passengers when they weren’t transporting a patient to surgery.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That’s certainly a different era.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It really is.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

A complete different era.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So in terms of a professional environment, what were you jumping into here? How did you find it?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, Dr. Clark -- and I was blessed to serve under all three Presidents of the institution -- Dr. Clark was a visionary person, and he had built the Anderson really from absolutely nothing. I remember Dr. Painter, who was in the Presidency at UT, said at the time that they never envisioned that MD Anderson would be anything other than almost like a hospice, because at that time surgery was the only treatment for cancer. We did not have chemotherapy. We didn’t have radiation therapy. Those would come later. And so they figured it would stay on the Baldwin, I mean the Baker estate, but Dr. Clark had other ideas. He was quite a visionary. The first day you were here as a faculty member you had an hour appointment in Dr. Clark’s office with him, and I remember he had a model there on a table in his office with a big, plastic dome over it, and it had the big campus and the south campus already on that model, and that was the era when Disneyland was coming onboard with futuristic things, and he had a model of a monorail that went from Anderson’s campus here in the medical center out to the south and the mid-south campus. And people were always saying, “Wouldn’t Dr. Clark be surprised if he came back and saw Anderson today?” And I say, “No. He already visualized that we would outgrow the space here in the Medical Center and would need the mid and south campus, and had already envisioned in his model what it would be like, and it’s come to pass. We just don’t have a monorail going back and forth like he had drawn.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Now, was he able to really instill in the people he worked with a sense that they would share that sense of the future, you know, that we’re focused on getting to that futuristic place?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, and people always laughed and said, “You know, I don’t know why in the world I ever came to Anderson,” because we had nothing to start with. We were an Army barracks for [wards?]

and things of that nature. Dr. Clark was such a charismatic person that he attracted people and got them to see the vision that he saw for MD Anderson.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Is there any moment of interaction that you had with him that you particularly recall that demonstrated his gifts in that area?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, the Mayfair was a building that Anderson had purchased. It had been an apartment area across the street where the Rotary House is now, and we had a faculty dining room on the second floor over there, and this was a little bit later development, but Dr. Clark would often join us for lunch over there, and I think there was a very close knit group of faculty at that time -- we were small, and it was possible.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So he mixed.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

He mixed, very much so.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

He mixed, which is amazing.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, and we had many... He could talk about anything. He could talk about various fonts in lettering, and he had a tremendous engineering background, and was sort of a Renaissance man. He talked in every area. He was a delightful person to be around. In fact, being an engineer, you know, the stone that clad the original building is that pink marble that you see still today. He had seen that when he was in medical school in Georgia. He used to hitchhike back and forth from medical school to home on the weekends and would have to get up real early on Monday morning in order to be sure and catch a ride and be back at medical school by the time classes started. And so he said as he would be standing on the highway, the sun would come up on this quarry, and he said that the marble took on a rosy pink glow that to him indicated hope, and he said, “If I ever have a hospital I’m going to have that marble at the hospital.” And so sure enough, R. Lee Clark had a hospital, and he used the pink marble. The only problem was that the quarry ran out of pink marble, and so now the additions have to have it stuccoed on the side. I understand that when the Anderson-Clayton Foundation gave the building, wanting to preserve the quality of the structure, they said that all additions should have that pink marble, and so -- but now it’s impossible because there is no more slabs of pink marble, and I think they crush it and put it into the stucco in order to maintain the trust document specifications. And that marble is one half inch, and at the time the building code in Houston said that any external cladding stone had to be three quarters of an inch, but Dr. Clark, with his engineering background, was able to change the building code from Houston for the Anderson to half-inch exterior cladding stone, so that’s...

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

He was a man who could get things done politically, too.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, very much so. They always said that the Board of Regents Room in the main campus in Austin used to be a very austere room. The Regents don’t meet there anymore. But it had some gilt dimensions that lined the wall, and then the big center table where the Regents sat, and when the Presidents would go up for their budget hearings, they would be grilled one at a time as they came to the table while their compadres sat around the room in the benches listening. And when Dr. Clark would get up to the table, the Regents would say, “Dr. Clark, is there anything else that you need?” And it used to just infuriate the other Presidents because they were having their budgets cut, and here was a man coming up there, and they were asking him if he needed anything else. But he was that way. He could go to the legislators and pat them on the back and talk about cancer eye in the cattle at home, and he just had a... He was... As I say, he was an amazing man, an amazing man.

Chapter 02: Memories of a Small MD Anderson and R. Lee Clark

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