Chapter 05: Memories of MD Anderson and the Texas in the Seventies

Title

Chapter 05: Memories of MD Anderson and the Texas in the Seventies

Files

Loading...

Media is loading
 

Description

In this chapter, Dr. Becker notes that when he arrived at MD Anderson, it was a large and complex institution, but still had an administrative structure designed for a very small enterprise (a "mom and pop store") and suffered from faculty inbreeding. After a pause in the interview, Dr. Becker shifts subject and tells some stories about the conservatism in Houston in the sixties, then talks about the period when Dr. R. Lee Clark stepped down and Dr. Charles A. LeMaistre took over as president of MD Anderson.

Identifier

BeckerF_01_20121213_C005

Publication Date

12-13-2011

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - MD Anderson Past; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Joining MD Anderson; On Texas and Texans; Experiences of Injustice, Bias; Personal Background; Funny Stories; Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion; Building/Transforming the Institution

Transcript

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

This is called ‘where the heck am I?’ First of all, in terms of the MD Anderson, I was a little overwhelmed by a couple of findings, discoveries. First, I really found it rather surprising that this unbelievably active, growing entity, with a growing international reputation was governed like a bodega, like a mom and pop store. The entire senior management, I don’t mean to demean anybody, but was basically Dr. Clark, who was in charge of everything, Dr. Hickey, who was sort of managing the clinical, and to a lesser extent, the research, although more than, probably, he should from his background, but with all good intentions. And Mr. Gilley. There were four or five -- four or five thousand people. There were tens of laboratories, hundreds and thousands of patients, and that was the management of the place. And that kind of blew me away.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So there was kind of this lag time between the management and actually what the institution was?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

It was a mom and pop store.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

That had grown up, was doing a thriving business, and it had begun to get in gourmet foods, but didn’t change the way they had buyers, or so forth. And second of all, about the Anderson, I was really stunned if MD -- if New York University thought it was inbred, ho, ho, ho, this place was really inbred. And when you get inbred, if it maintains excellence, that’s fine. But if it begins to be a slap on the back type of place, where omissions and commissions are ignored, because they’re being done by the nephews and nieces, that’s no good, and that’s what was happening, more in research than in clinical, much more. I discovered where I was when I suddenly, incomprehensively, for somebody this smart, discovered I was in the deep South. I mean, it was a tremendous shock to me. When I looked at an internship, one of them I looked at was Johns Hopkins University? Why did I even bother, because they’d never taken an NYU student? Well, I was the -- I was Lew Thomas’ fellow. I told you, they looked at it and said, oh, you’re Lew Thomas’ fellow. I exed them out. Why did I ex out Johns Hopkins? Because I was taken on a tour by one of their senior professors, with some students, and residents, and interns, and I suddenly realized I was on an all black ward. 1955. Segregated, Johns Hopkins. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ]. []

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

[ ] [The recorder is paused.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ]

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

You became a member of the liquor pool, it cost me $11 a month, which meant I could bring a bottle and leave it there, and be served the booze, OK?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I had no idea that this was a dry county for so long?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Until the ‘70s.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s amazing.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

And just culturally, I wouldn’t have come. Number two, oh, funny doctor’s club story. When I was vice president and recruiting a very sharp scientist, he drug his wife along everywhere, which worried me. And we went to the doctor’s club, which in those days, always got these managers who was trying to make -- I use this southern ‘drug,’ you see?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I did notice that. (laughter)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Classier and classier. And he was asking for more and more at lunch, and she kept asking for more than he asked for, and she had nothing to do with his lab. OK? And finally, I said to her, I don’t remember her name, so and so, look, we’re not made of money. At which point, the manager of the club came over, and ostentatiously dropped the newest advance in his desire to make it posh, matchbooks with my name on them in gold. Stamped in gold.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

(laughter) Talk about the timing issues!

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Bad timing, bad timing! If you have gold stamped matchbooks.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

(laughter)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

It’s a true story, you can't make that up. I still have the matches.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

You did? That’s funny.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

[ ] In any case...

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So what -- how...

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Wait! No, this is the crucial -- what I got to [southern?].

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh. OK. Gotcha.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

We had a beautiful baby puppy, a black standard poodle, gorgeous. And we thought we’d take her to a puppy show we’d read about, my wife and I, and my little tiny daughter, over here in, oh, Fred, Pasadena! Which is a neighboring town, it’s kind of a suburb of Houston, and a very charming and uptight place today. We were driving in, and she’s my navigatrix, and she was telling me where to turn, and I looked up, and there was a billboard as we entered Pasadena, 1977, and it said, you can feel safe, you are in KKK country. As I crouched down behind the steering wheel, I did not feel safe at all. And it was a shock to discover how southern Texas was. You see, up there, the cowboys seemed very nice in the movies. The people are very jolly. Everyone who met with me, everyone who asked me to come here couldn’t have been nicer, couldn’t have been warmer, couldn’t have been less overtly biased. And then I suddenly realized, I was in a place that was barely desegregated, only 10 years before. And if it had been segregated, we would’ve laughed them out of New York. I mean, we never would’ve considered coming here. Texas is envisioned as southwestern. It is, but it’s south. It fought in the Civil War, it was heroic in the Civil War, they’re still fighting it at the University of Texas. Texas A&M, this guy Perry has a confederate flag on his license plate, and that was a bigger shock than anything. And when my wife saw that, who by the way, is Episcopalian, one of the barbarian hoards of Celtics. [ ] [The recorder is paused.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

OK, we’re back on again.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

So seriously, we had to reconsider the attitudes, atmospheres, and so on. My daughter was applying for one of the few preschools in the city, and a very, very posh school, which we were told she’d never get in, it was a legacy school of governors, and loyal people, and so on, named Kinkaid. At that time, there was only one preschool in this whole city. And Kinkaid was one of the two great private schools, others had just started. I might tell you, during the psychological exam, (laughter) for a two and a half year old, my daughter finally looked out the window and said are we finished, to the psychologist. And I thought, doomed, doomed, doomed. And the psychologist said, why, Bronwyn? And she said because I want to go out and play with the children. And she said, you go do that. And when she went out I said that was it, huh? And the psychologist said it certainly was, she’s accepted.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s great. (laughter) []

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yeah. Doomed, doomed, doomed. Anyhow, OK. So that was a big shock. It was a very big shock, and although I take no little credit, I helped greatly here, this area, and this city have changed miraculously in the past 30 years. We have had a black police chief, a black mayor, a lesbian woman -- lesbian woman, that’s terrific (inaudible), bananas. Mayor, city council is diverse, it’s a miracle. Have all of the attitudes changed, no. But they haven't changed in the north either, OK? If all of the medical schools in New York but one or maybe two were restricted in the ‘50s, my god. After World War II, OK. Now...

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So that became, really, one of your -- one of your many goals, was to create more of a diverse environment?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Well, I’m going to end with this particular statement, and then we’ll come to this juncture. Suddenly, and totally in surprise, it was announced that Lee Clark was going to retire, because he was 70 years old. Now, Lee Clark could’ve passed for 45. I always thought, if you fooled with him, he’d break you like a twig. That’s, you know. If you talked to him, he was sharper than a tack. Then that was the rules, since then, that’s been abrogated, for other reasons. I was only here for a couple of years at that time. I don’t remember the exact date. It’s important, because now, the person who had attracted me, who had talked to me about giving him insights in research, was leaving. And so, what was going to happen? There was no history, it was Lee Clark. We didn’t know who they would pick, or how they would pick him. Him, I say, because the chances, in those days, of a woman, were pretty much like a (laughter) nevermind -- a jamboree in Pasadena.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

It was so strange that my wife and I started to say maybe I should get my name out there again. Because, when you are known, the offers don’t stop, they just become inquires. Hey, Fred, how are you doing down there? So, I’ll tell you how one of those went, because this will end up -- you’ll have the biggest laughs of any interview. You can leave it on there.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

[ ] One of my dearest friends in New York, who had been my fellow, and rose up eventually, to be the chairman of pathology at NYU, is a living breathing Woody Allen. But for him, it’s real, OK? He continued to believe that my coming here was a huge practical joke, and had warned me that they were going to kill me here, they were going to lynch me, because they wouldn’t put up with me and my views. And we continued to do research together, and every time [I went] to New York, we’d see each other, and at meetings. So at this crucial juncture, with Lee retiring, and me not knowing where or what was going to happen, George calls me, and says well, Fred [ ] well, how are they treating you? And I said, George, [ ] I have never been treated so kindly, so generously, so warmly in my life. And he said, they don’t mean it! (laughter)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

(laughter)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

He was afraid I was being sucked in.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. (laughter)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

He was afraid I was being sucked in, for the lynching.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

For the lynching. (laughter)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

In.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ]

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

[ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ]

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

[ ] [

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] [END OF FILE]

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Chapter 05: Memories of MD Anderson and the Texas in the Seventies

Share

COinS