Chapter 01: R. Lee Clark Chooses His Chairman of Pathology

Title

Chapter 01: R. Lee Clark Chooses His Chairman of Pathology

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Description

In this chapter, Dr. Becker discusses how he was recruited to MD Anderson to be the chair of the Department of Pathology.

Identifier

BeckerFF_01_20080619_C01

Publication Date

6-19-2008

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Joining MD Anderson/Coming to TexasJoining MD Anderson; Portraits; Professional Path; Evolution of Career; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Funny Stories; Research; MD Anderson Culture; On Texas and Texans; Joining MD Anderson; Personal Background; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; C

Transcript

Lesley Williams Brunet:

This is

Lesley Williams Brunet:

about to record an oral history interview. (inaudible) couldn't hear from Mr. Gray since then. But I'd like to talk about how you first became aware of MD Anderson and your view of it. You know, before you came here.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

You want to test your recording device?

Lesley Williams Brunet:

I tested them before I came over here.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

But now you're here.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Right. (inaudible) There has to be an easier way. When did you first become aware of MD Anderson?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Test it.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Yes, I can see. It has meters.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

OK. But you're sure the tape is recording it?

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Yes we --

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Because I'm not go--

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Well I wanted to know how -- how you -- how Dr. [Parker?] convinced you to come.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

When you're ready. You ready?

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Yeah, I'm ready.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

In late 1975 I was contacted by Dr. Jose Trujillo, who was the head department chairman -- titles have changed frequently here -- of Laboratory Medicine; and someone I had known through serving on NIH grant review committees, and someone I had learned to respect and admire for his humanity and also for his foresightedness in being one of the first to apply then modern chromosomal techniques to the analysis of leukemia. He approached me and told me that the then chairman of pathology, Dr. William Russell, was going to retire and that a search committee was being established and that he, Dr. Trujillo, was on that search committee and wanted to present my name to the search committee: Would I be interested in coming to the MD Anderson. My response was, "What is the MD Anderson?" He told me a good deal about the fact that it was in Houston, Texas; that it was a young cancer center, one of the first to be designated a comprehensive cancer center; that it had been in existence for approximately 30 years; spent a great deal of its effort in growth; that it had some extraordinarily distinguished clinical oncologists, whose names I did know, and those were Dr. Frei and Dr. Freireich [oral history interview], and asked if I would be willing to let him submit my credentials. I told him that I was willing to let him submit my credentials, but I was probably not at all interested in coming to Houston, Texas, which was almost an unknown site to me. Then I was contacted by Dr. Clark's office -- R. Lee Clark's office -- who said that Dr. Clark was going to be in New York and wanted to interview with me. He called on a one-on-one basis because my name had been submitted, and the search committee expressed great interest in me as a potential chairman, the next chairman of Anatomic Pathology. I had an extraordinary visit with Dr. Clark. Anything with Dr. Clark was extraordinary because he was extraordinary. We met first for a cocktail, and he told me about what had been done here, and his realization that now having devoted a great deal of the energy of the place to physical growth, clinical growth, clinical research growth … He told me some of the people whose names are all enshrined, that they were looking forward to the next phase of the MD Anderson, and that that phase would encompass in particular a lot of modernization of clinical facilities, reevaluation of research, and certainly bringing in new clinical chiefs like myself who were both clinically adept and had significant research reputation. As part of this interview or discussion, he then took me to dinner at the Marco Polo Club in the Waldorf-Astoria. I quite impressed by this because as a New Yorker, I had never heard of the Marco Polo Club, and here was this ultimate Texan who was enormously impressive -- vital, intelligent, and handsome. Just an unbelievable character. What he didn't tell me was that we were having dinner with the board of trustees of the American Cancer Society. That was rather a tickle to me because it was an unusual way to have dinner and an interview. Now I might say that although I had been the acting chairman of pathology at NYU, and the director of pathology and research at Bellevue Hospital, the interesting thing was that I was only tangentially or partially involved in cancer research. A good deal of my research was liver research. At the time I had written a couple of books on liver disease. It was an interesting dinner, because it was a social dinner of the major figures who ran the Cancer Society, which means that they had nothing to do with dinner; they were mostly important political and financial figures who sat on the board. Dr. Clark made me laugh because he announced that I was the next chairman of pathology at the MD Anderson, which I remarked was a big surprise to me. And there after dinner we remanded to his hotel room, which was in the -- if I remember correctly, the Plaza Hotel-- wherein Dr. Clark broke out a bottle of Crown Royal, and we proceeded to drink and negotiate. But at the time, Dr. Clark, who was such a powerful personality, negotiated in a way that I was not used to. I had looked at several chairmanships of pathology, and his discussion was mostly about what a wonderful opportunity it was, how I would love Tex and Houston, and only tangentially did we discuss what the job was, if it paid anything, were there any laboratories. Towards around two in the morning, Clark turned to me and said, "I have become convinced that you are the person I want as the next chairman of pathology.” And I said that I would have to have a lot more information than that, and so on. Dr. Clark remarked -- and I will never forget that -- he realized that I was in the center of medicine and so forth in this great city of New York, but I had an opportunity to be a pioneer and come to Houston. I remarked that I wasn't of a pioneer type, but I was the person who usually would come in after the pioneers and class it up a little bit. Then I went home, woke my wife, and told her that I had met this extraordinary guy and blew the whole job with my last remark -- that I came in after the pioneers. Turned out he thought that was very funny. So I agreed to come to Houston, and be interviewed, and see what was what, and maybe get a little more tangible idea of what they were going to offer.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

And you said that you thought you blew it?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Blew the job!

Lesley Williams Brunet:

But that suggests that you were a little interested then?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Well, no. It was my analysis. I'm an analytic person with a terrifying sense of humor. She did say, "Who cares. I don't want to go to Houston anyhow." We had a beautiful apartment at 75th Street and Madison Avenue, and I had more than a little respect at NYU. Albeit I was not then chosen to be the chairman at NYU because there was a changing of the old guard. They were looking for more people who were then not so much inbred, and they wanted perhaps someone who was more purely a researcher -- a usual thing. But I could have stayed on without any problem. And I had several other offers on the table. I was be -- looking at a job in California and elsewhere. So I came to Houston.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

What time of year of was that?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Early 1976.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Winter still?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

There's no winter here.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Well, I mean --

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

There's no winter here.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

What time --

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Around January. (laughter)

Lesley Williams Brunet:

OK.

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Chapter 01: R. Lee Clark Chooses His Chairman of Pathology

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