Chapter 05: The Search for Dr. Clark’s Replacement and Charles Lemaitre’s Administrative Impact

Title

Chapter 05: The Search for Dr. Clark’s Replacement and Charles Lemaitre’s Administrative Impact

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Description

In this chapter, Dr. Becker discusses his insights into the administration of Dr. Charles LeMaistre.

Identifier

BeckerFF_01_20080619_C05

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 University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - OverviewPortraits; Building/Transforming the Institution; Leadership; On Leadership; The Business of MD Anderson; The Institution and Finances; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Funny Stories

Transcript

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Well, a search now began. A search now began for the new president. And here we had Dr. Clark, who was the only president of the MD Anderson.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

(inaudible)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

What's that?

Lesley Williams Brunet:

It's hailing.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yeah, well I mean it's probably going to be a tornado in a minute, so we might as well -- I have no alcohol because you're not allowed to drink. That was one of the depressing things I learned about it.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

(overlapping dialogue; inaudible) alcohol like in your desk?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

You have no alcohol. This is a University of Texas campus. And unless something has changed, if you're caught drinking alcohol on this campus at an unauthorized event -- meaning anything but an authorized event -- you can be fired whether you have tenure or not on the spot. Now, I don't know if that's changed. The only events at which alcohol can be sold -- given out or whatever -- is at one authorized by the president after 5 o'clock for an event. Now I'll be very frank with you; I was one of the people who said, "And no whiskey. No hard liquor." Because I'm not big on people drinking hard liquor in a professional environment, so that was sort of a stickler. So now we're looking for a president. And here's the president who hired me, and who had -- we so admired. Somewhat, it was a shock to everyone. I was asked by the search committee, ”You have to go back and look into that." That search committee was headed by the chancellor of the University of Texas. Someone named Charles Mickey LeMaistre [oral history interview]. And on it sat the governor -- several ex-governors, chairmen of the Board of Regents -- I mean really high level people. I have one funny anecdote about that, and that anecdote was that I was asked --since I was the first outside chairman who had been recruited in many years, and certainly from New York-- to bring one of the candidates to his luncheon interview. That candidate was Dr. Paul Marks, who at that time was the vice president for medical affairs of Columbia University and dean of the medical school, and I knew him. The luncheon was held in one of the nice rooms over in the Doctor's Club. Another anecdote all together.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

I was here. I may have gone (inaudible).

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

And when we came in to the Doctor's Club, Paul and I, there were all these distinguished figures in a very agitated discussion at the other end of the room. Paul said to me, "My goodness, they're certainly animated about this search," and I said, "Paul, it's more likely they’re discussing the Texas, Texas A&M game." And I was right. They were trying to break a television blackout on local games. Just an anecdote.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Well, the mayor is very much a fan.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Well, Dr. Marks didn't get the job, but he did become the chancellor and head of a little organization known as Sloan Kettering Memorial. But the dealings of the search committee --which are totally private, and I have never been privy to-- were that Dr. LeMaistre had been distinguished head of -- I mean one of the first physicians or first physician to be the chancellor of the university. He had extraordinary credentials. He was trained in New York at New York and did research at the Rockefeller Institute. He had been the first, I think first vice chancellor in charge of health affairs of the university, had written the manifesto on the need for medical schools, and had a good deal of training in pulmonary medicine at Dallas Southwestern, where he had been recruited by the --I'm going to forget that name-- but he was the founding head of medicine there --Don something or other with an S-- and so forth. So he had unusual credentials and had been the chairman of the President of the United States’ committee on smoking. Chancellors have a certain limited life expectancy as chancellor. So at some point, I gather, the committee turned to him and said, "Mickey, how about you?" And Mickey said, "That's quite interesting, but I should step down as the head of the search committee." This is my understanding; I have no insight into it. And Dr. Charles LeMaistre was the second president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Now, the MD Anderson Cancer Center from its real beginning --meaning after Dr. Bertner, when Dr. Clark took it over --was really quite interesting, because it was like a mom and pop store. Do you know what that expression means?

Lesley Williams Brunet:

Mmm hmm.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yeah, OK. That had become Randalls, or Safeway, or Rice or something but was still administered the same way it had been. I.e., Dr. Clark made all of the crucial decisions, Dr. Hickey was the operating officer, and Mr. Gilley ran the finances. So after some 30 or so years --and by the way, many of the chairmen were the people who had been the first chairmen of that department and amusement, as we say in French, I was the seventeenth director of pathology at Bellevue Hospital dating back to the 1800's where William Welch, the founder of American pathology was the first. Now I was the second chairman of pathology, dealing with many chairmen who were the first chairmen of their departments -- the founding chairmen. Dr. LeMaistre is a champion in his understanding of administration. I mean by background, by experience, and everything. And he looked around and could hardly believe that the place had grown to where it had grown; had a budget of what it had, which of course is a joke compared to today; had thousands of people working; and in effect, three people were running it. And he then set out to reorganize the administrative setup of the MD Anderson. (thunder) I hear you Dr. Clark. My part in this was as follows: Dr. LeMaistre knew me very, very well but slightly from a distance. He knew me because as chancellor, he sat in the Board of Regents, and my appointment had to be approved, so he was familiar with my background and where I came from. Also, since he had a New York background --I say that for somebody who comes from Alabama. Remember he trained at New York Hospital and at Rockefeller and knew the people that -- well that's very odd. I just remembered something. The person who actually told Dr. Clark that he would have to change the image of the MD Anderson was not at Sloan Kettering. He was the brilliant -- well he may have been at the time -- I guess he was -- was Lou [Lewis] Thomas. Lou Thomas was one of the great philosophic writers of science still quoted today. But his first job in New York was his chairman of pathology at NYU, and I was his first fellow. So it was a rather odd leap that some years later as the head of Sloan Kettering Memorial, he would tell Dr. Clark the way to make the recognition of the Anderson greater would be to bring in a much more diverse type of person. Then incidentally, completely incidentally, Dr. Clark recruited me, Dr. Thomas' fellow. I thought --I told Olsen that. I thought that was funny. I didn't even know that by the way, but I read Olsen's book, and it said that he had gone to Dr. Thomas to ask advice. OK. Dr. LeMaistre called me in to ask him how I felt after being here for a little over two years maybe. Yeah, two years. I told him that I thought the potential of the place was extraordinary, almost unlimited based on not only the patient population, the availability of tissues to study, et cetera, but also the tremendous support of Texans in general -- their cooperativeness, their appreciation of what we did. I told him a funny story. An anecdote which wasn't true, but I made -- to give an example. I said, "If I was in New York at Bellevue, and I went to a party, and someone asked me where I worked, and I said, ‘Bellevue,’ they would punch me in the nose and say, ‘You killed my mother.’" If I went to a party in Houston, and they asked me where I worked and I said, ‘MD Anderson,’ they'd take me in their arms and say, ‘My mother died there, but you did so much for her, is there any way I can help?’" In effect that was fairly close to the truth. "But," I told him, "there were real problems, which were causing me concern and consideration as to whether I was going to stay." They were the fact that it was so inbred. The chairmen never left; that many of the science departments or areas were run by people who'd come here as graduate students; that there was a lack of criticism; a lack of review; a lack of hard-nosed expressions of opinion, which where I came from was part and partial of the daily life. And he, that tricky devil, having lived through administration, asked me if I'd be willing to review research here and give him what's generically called a "white paper" on what I think had to be done to improve it. Foolish me. I did it. He then turned to me --it took some months -- and said, "I am going to change the administration here, and I need to have a number of vice presidents, such as one for patient care, one for the hospital administration, and one for research. I am offering you the job as the first vice president for research and head of" --what was called-- "the Tumor Institute." That took me quite aback, and I asked him what he expected me to do. He said, "I expect you to accomplish all the goals that you've put in the white paper." End of dictation, end of tape. It's now 4:30. We have to call it quits.

Lesley Williams Brunet:

That's fine. We're almost at the end of the tape.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

There, perfect.

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Chapter 05: The Search for Dr. Clark’s Replacement and Charles Lemaitre’s Administrative Impact

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