Chapter 03: Stories: A Vision for Pathology and an Office for a New VP of Research


Chapter 03: Stories: A Vision for Pathology and an Office for a New VP of Research



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In this chapter, Dr. Becker discusses his vision for the Department of Pathology; the retirement of Dr. R. Lee Clark; and his work with the new MD Anderson President, Dr. Charles LeMaistre.



Publication Date



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


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - OverviewPersonal Background; MD Anderson Culture; Working Environment; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Funny Stories


Frederick F. Becker, MD:

The other part of it was that I then wrote Dr. Clark a five paged, single spaced document telling him what I would need to do the job he was asking me to do -- modernize pathology, bring in research, et cetera. At that time, the head of finance here -- and I don't remember what his title …titles have changed so much -- was a chap named Elmer Gilley. Elmer Gilley kept all the money in his desk and doled it out only in small envelopes. Elmer Gilley called me in to talk about this agreement, which he referred to as "Becker's Bill of Particulars," because apparently no one had ever written such a document to Dr. Clark. Everybody predicted Mr. Gilley would be really down on me. Instead, he said, "I am so grateful. Because with all these recruitments he does, people come in five years later and would say, 'And by the way, Dr. Clark also promised me this.' Out of thin air. You've written something in paper." So I was really quite taken. Mr. Gilley thought this was terrific. In later years, he would challenge me repeatedly on other items, but I'll get to that maybe. Well maybe I won't. Maybe I'll tell you what happened when I became vice president since it's a Gilley story. I inherited Dr. Clark's office. It had been sitting there since he retired, empty. It was a store room, and I thought that was incredible because his office on the seventh floor was at the crossroads of the whole cancer center at that time. On one side was the clinic, on another were the research areas, rehabilitation -- physical rehabilitation -- was right across the hall with another story.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

But he -- he --

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

He was gone. He had retired.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

[Lomata?] didn't move into that place?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

No, no. He took -- the first space Dr. Lomata took was across the street in the Main Building. That huge office suite with the gigantic terrace.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Oh, OK.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

OK? Now you've brought up something that's a bit of a shocker, and I've leapt ahead three years. It was a giant shock when Dr. Clark retired. An enormous shock. One, not in my wildest dreams did I think he was 70. He was still [erect?], gorgeous, moved like a tiger, acted like a tiger, and everything in the place was done with Dr. Clark. I mean, you bickered your salary in that same room under a lamp, you talked to him. Dr. Hickey as the director was the person you went to for toilet tissue or cyclotrons, things like that. So the story leaps ahead a little bit now. Three years later. I have -- Dr. LeMaistre [oral history interview] graciously gave me Dr. Clark's old office, which I thought was a fabulous place to be. But I hated it because it had sort of an avocado green rug, and avocado green drapes, and brass fixtures -- it looked awful. So as you know, everything was bought through state contractors who we never saw. We all had this hateful ironware or whatever it was called -- Steelcase, Steelcase furniture, which I thought was like a prison or a camp or something. I asked, "Who were these contractors?" You realize I'm leaping ahead three years, but I'll come back a little bit. It turned out they were real people. They were human beings, and indeed, there was one of them right here on Katy Freeway. Now what it was is that they were all furniture people, but they had a separate thing through which they fulfilled state contract. I went over to this person, and I said I'm the new vice president -- this is why it's three years later -- oh, and he was so gracious, and so on. I said, "You're a state contractor. Does that mean you have to sell Steelcase or that kind of furniture?" He said, "No." He said, "Come with me," and we went from the gray, green institutional area -- [Break in audio]

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

-- lot of money on it. So it was pretty much like the Wizard of Oz. I was Dorothy and suddenly I had gone from Kansas to Oz. And here were all these beautiful pieces of furniture. Well you're sitting next to a piece of furniture that I bought in 1979 from a state contractor for pretty much the same price as Steelcase, only it's white enamelized with an oak top. The drawers still come out and go back in without grinding and without replacement. And there's my desk, and there were other pieces which I've given away because they didn't quite fit in the 98 square feet I'm in now.

Lesley Williams Brunet:


Frederick F. Becker, MD:

However, I knew I might have some problem with Mr. Gilley , and so I looked around for a couch, and there was this beautiful leather couch, and I said to the owner of a contract furniture place, "What is that?" "Oh," he said, "that's Moroccan kid glove leather couch." I said, "How much is it?" He said, "$8,200, but you would get a state discount." I said, "Write it up with the rest of the stuff." So he wrote the couch up and then all the rest, and we submitted the order to Mr. Gilley. Very shortly thereafter, Mr. Gilley called me up and said, "OK, OK. Get rid of the G-D couch, and you can have the rest of it." Now at the same time, the person who ran this place as Dr. Clark's operating officer was Frances Goff, who is another story all together. In the book it's written up. She was enormously known, and powerful, and well thought of out in the state, and one of the great moves that Dr. Clark made was to steal her away from the legislature. But she became the arbiter of everything. Now I hated the green office of Dr. Clark. I felt like I was in an aquarium. So my wife went out and looked around and found a beautiful bittersweet carpet -- bittersweet color -- and lovely venetian blinds, and wonderful light fixtures. One of the high points was that, when I presented this to Francis, who had to approve that, she said to me rather sternly, "Well you know the carpeting has to be flame retardant." I pointed out to her that even bittersweet carpeting can be flame retardant, and it didn't have to be a poisonous green color. That broke her up, and we became great friends. This strange little New Yorker and all of the classic Texans. Course they knew I was a little bit different. That's how that office was decorated. For as long as I was there, we never had to replace any fixture, the carpet, or the venetian blinds. So that was kind of a new era.

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Chapter 03: Stories: A Vision for Pathology and an Office for a New VP of Research