Chapter 08:  Charles LeMaistre Becomes the Second President

Chapter 08: Charles LeMaistre Becomes the Second President



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In this chapter, Dr. Bowen talks about the leadership of MD Anderson president, Dr. Charles LeMaistre, and how he came to become the institution’s new leader; his own personal leadership of the newly created Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis; and the further growth of MD Anderson. He also discusses the legacy of Dr. R. Lee Clark.



Publication Date



Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Institutional Change; Leadership; On Leadership; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Building/Transforming the Institution; Institutional Politics; Controversy; Understanding the Institution; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Discovery and Success; Healing, Hope, and the Promise of Research; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Portraits; Institutional Mission and Values; Patients; Patients, Treatment, Survivors


James M. Bowen, PhD:

But that is where we were. I stayed on as Acting Chairman of the newly created Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis for a few years. And ultimately, when it began to look as though our faculty could hold their own in science, I was made permanent Chairman. But Dr. Clark told me, when he and I discussed removing the acting from my title, that we were going to recreate a new department, and that probably the Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis, as a separate entity, would move in its entirety to the Science Park. And the remainder, the part that remained in Houston, would become an integral part of a larger basic science department, and I fully supported that and told him that although I enjoyed being chairman, that my ego did not require it. And when the time came, if he needed me to step aside to recruit somebody who was really strong in the field, that I would step aside and that I could help recruit. And that I would try not to make waves. The one thing that I wanted from him in terms of commitment was that we didn't bring in a cannibal who would come in and fire everybody. Plus, I said, I have to defend my people. Dr. Clark was very reassuring about that. Well, then something else happened. At the time, I had no clue that I would have a role in it or it would ultimately influence my own career, but I turned out to be extraordinarily mistaken on both counts, and that is, that it came time for Dr. Clark to retire. One of the things that Dr. Clark did not do in his leadership in the institution is really make a strong preparation for his own successor. From the various people that you speak to in this process, you will get different opinions about this. My personal opinion is that Dr. Clark felt that what he was doing was a calling, and that he would be able to continue to do it until some really significant advances were made. And, of course, if you look back on his career, tremendous advances remain. During the period of time that I was at M. D. Anderson, the overall expectation of cure for most forms of cancer went from like one in five or six to one in two. You can't ask for better but . . .

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Are those survival rates or cures?

James M. Bowen, PhD:

Well, cure and long-term survival rate, I tend to use interchangeably. But one of the things that has marked the advances that we have made on cancer is that there are certainly many more people out there who have been cured of their cancer, but there is an even larger number of people who are not cured of their cancer and who are not dying of it. They are living with their cancer at some level. And, you know, if you place those two groups, that is, those that are cured and their cancer will never recur, and those who are living with their cancer, then you've got a number for what you can call long-term survival. So, tremendous things were done. But people age. It came time for people to consider a successor for Dr. Clark. At the time that that happened, I was a fairly visible administrative faculty member. Department chairman. I had chaired the two major committees and was the first and perhaps the only non-physician to ever chair our human subject committee. Because I was so deeply immersed in the enabling of both clinical as well as basic science research at that time, and it was decided that a search committee would be formed to find Dr. Clark's successor. And because of my capacity as Chairman of the Research Committee at that time, I was asked to serve as one of the members of the search committee.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Who asked you?

James M. Bowen, PhD:

I guess the initial request came from Dr. Lemaistre [oral history interview], who was Chancellor of the UT system at that time, and who recommended me to him, I am not sure, but it was very likely Dr. Jose Trujillo who was a friend and a colleague and a collaborator with whom I served on several of these committees. He was Chairman of Laboratory Medicine at the time, and we formed this committee. The committee consisted of three members of the Board of Regents, including Governor Allan Shivers, and at the same time, we were also looking for a president of the Health Science Center. So, there were two of these big search committees involved in it. And so, we began to get a structure. We had members of our clinical group, a member of the board of visitors, regents, at least three presidents of other UT medical institutions in the country, and a smattering of faculty. There were about seven of us, and two trainees -- a basic science postdoc and a radiotherapy fellow at that time. What an interesting group of people! Well, we moved along. We did a fairly exhaustive search. Dr. Lemaistre called the committee together several times and we looked at some people, we talked to some people, and one afternoon, I had a telephone call from Dr. Trujillo and he said, "Jim, can I see you after hours tonight?" And I said, "Sure, but I am free right now. Why don't I come over right now." He said, "No, it has to be after hours." O.K. And I said, "Do you want me to come to your office?" And he said, "Can I meet you in the library?" I am thinking, what is happening here? And we met about 7:30 that night in the library. He said, "I need somebody brave and foolhardy." And I said, "O.K. What do I have to do to get this badge?" And he said, "We want to ask Mickey Lemaistre to resign as chairman of the search committee to replace Dr. Clark." And I can remember thinking, this can't be happening to me. And I thought this man was my friend. And I said, "O.K. Why are we going to do this? I thought he was wonderful." He said, "He's wonderful, but we don't need him as chairman of the search committee. We need him as president when Dr. Clark retires." [Break in audio tape]

James M. Bowen, PhD:

Well, I realized that Jose Trujillo was very serious about this, and that he had consulted with all of the other M. D. Anderson members. Whether or not he had consulted with some of the other outside members, I am not sure, except I knew that he had spoken to Governor Shivers. And Governor Shivers endorsed this plan. So, the following Thursday after this conversation on a Monday night, Jose had organized a meeting of the, I think, seven M. D. Anderson members of the committee and said, "This is what we want to do. We really believe that after all the people we've looked at, and we have looked at some extraordinary people, we believe that lemaistre needs to be a candidate." So, this was agreed, and before the meeting was over, Jose said to me, "Dr. Bowen, would you remain behind after the meeting is over? I need some assistance with something." And so, everyone left and I waited behind, and he came and he said, "Do you think you could get free one day next week?" And I said, "Probably. What do you want me to do?" And he said, "I want you to go with me to Austin and meet with Dr. Lemaistre and ask him to resign as chairman of the search committee and become a candidate." And we did. I don't know how Dr. Trujillo was feeling. I was experiencing some fear and trepidation about this and I thought, well, I believe that this is the right thing to do, and if we cause ourselves difficulty for it, we will just have to backtrack and rethink it. Well, that day in Austin, in Dr. Lemaistre's office was my first real dealing with Charles Lemaistre. And to our amazement, he had some fun with us because he knew we felt at some risk and we felt discomfited. It is perfectly clear, in retrospect, that he was prepared for this, that Allan Shivers had spoken to him and said it was going to happen. And he must have already said, I will agree to be a candidate. But he said, the crucial thing is not how the presidents of the other 18 institutions feel but how M. D. Anderson faculty people feel. If they are enthusiastic about this, then I will consider it and we will go from there. Well, as the old cliché says, the rest is history. He agreed. He resigned, to become a candidate. We interviewed him like any other candidate. We considered his credentials against the credentials of some other very strong people in the nation, and in every respect, he looked like our man. Governor Shivers, in the meantime, had agreed to become chairman of the search committee, because we felt like we needed help in dealing with presidents of the other institutions because, rightly or wrongly, the M. D. Anderson contingent of the search committee felt as though that not all of the other UT medical institutions were interested in our having a really strong leader, one who knew where everything was in the UT system and how to deal with the legislature and so forth. And, you know, we knew that lemaistre was a master. But, in fact, the search committee was virtually unanimous in its deliberations after that, and Dr. Lemaistre came. And during the period of time that, well, between which we were finalizing the search and arranging for the transition from Dr. Clark's presidency to Dr. Lemaistre's presidency, Dr. Lemaistre visited Anderson many times. Of course, he knew it inside and out from his role as chancellor, and spoke with many of us on the phone, and we realized that in many of our telephone conversations, he was, in the guise of kind of casual conversation, feeling us out as to where we thought M. D. Anderson should go and what route it should take, and so forth. And to see whether or not we would accept a radical departure from Dr. Clark's style of administration, namely, from a highly centralized administrative structure to a highly delegated and highly distributed form of administrative structure, not unlike the administrative structure of the whole system, where there is a central figure at the top, but there are people who have essentially total responsibility for the day-to-day operations in their area, and rather than having to have every department head marching into the president's office every day, that there would be people that they could talk to about small problems, and if those problems couldn't get resolved, then the president would be accessible and available. Well, we thought it was a good idea because M. D. Anderson had grown so much that we felt that it was getting hard for any single individual to kind of keep up with what was going on all over. We were not only huge but we were becoming more and more geographically dispersed around the medical center. So, yes, we thought it was a good idea and we shared with Dr. Lemaistre, and he freely received and discussed and analyzed with us, how we thought certain things could work and how we thought there would be natural divisions coming down. Dr. Lemaistre called me privately on a few occasions to ask how I felt about the restructuring of my own department, and I told him that I thought that there was wisdom in it, that it would be done, and that I was going to be supportive and be prepared to let someone else take the helm in order to get us back into a really, really strong national funding posture again, because virology, as such, was losing a lot of its attractiveness to the funding agencies, because so much of virology had become molecular biology by that point. And he seemed appreciative of that point of view, and we went from there.

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Chapter 08:  Charles LeMaistre Becomes the Second President