Chapter 07: MD Anderson Presidents


Chapter 07: MD Anderson Presidents



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In this segment, Dr. Kripke talks about Dr. Charles LeMaistre and Dr. John Mendelsohn. She notes that Dr. LeMaistre's greatest contribution may be the creation of the Department of Cancer Prevention, then goes on to discuss the leadership style of Dr. Mendelsohn, with whom she worked closely. She describes him as a consensus builder, and notes his success in fostering translational research (he is a physician-scientist) at MD Anderson, to the degree that there are more physician-scientists who want to come to the institution than they can afford to hire. She then speaks about her optimism that Dr. Ronald DePinho will be able to guide MD Anderson through another "quantum leap." She credits the Board of Regents for selecting the presidents that MD Anderson needs as a particular moment, even if the choice at first seem surprising.



Publication Date



The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Key MD Anderson Figures; Leadership; MD Anderson Impact; Portraits

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History


Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Would you comment on the—kind of compare and contrast Charles LeMaistre and Dr. John Mendelsohn in terms of their leadership styles and what you feel they—the mark they left on the institution?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

That’s difficult for me because I didn’t work directly with Dr. LeMaistre as a research department head so I never really reported—I didn’t have a lot of contact with him, and I didn’t spend a lot of time in his presence. That’s totally different from my experience with Dr. Mendelsohn. However, I would like to say that one of Dr. LeMaistre’s outstanding and lasting contributions to the institution was the creation of a cancer prevention program, and I think to me, at least as a researcher, not a clinician, that may be his greatest legacy for the institution was moving that agenda forward. There was a lot of opposition to it at the time. Resources were very scarce and shrinking at the time that that division was created. It was given an elevated status within the institution and in retrospect I think—even though I was opposed to doing it that way I think in retrospect that’s the only way that it could have grown into the force that it is today is by giving it special dispensation, special privileges and so on, so I really think that that was one of his major contributions to the institution.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And Dr. Mendelsohn in terms of his style?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

His style was very much the consensus builder. He did not like making edicts and giving authoritarian directives. He really wanted everybody to agree that this is the way to go, and so he worked very hard to try to attain consensus in terms of new scientific programs, clinical activities and so on. He was truly a consensus builder, in my opinion. [CLIP C: MD Anderson Impact, C: Portraits , He was also a very strong supporter of translational research, moving science out of the laboratory and into patients, and so that agenda flourished under his leadership. He is a physician-scientist, and he did do translational research himself. That’s his forte in terms of his own professional career, and so under his tenure at the very beginning it was very difficult to attract physician-scientists into the institution, and that was one place that we saw the strength of MD Anderson is the ability, the potential of putting together basic science and clinical work to really move that agenda forward. And it was difficult in the beginning, but after a few years of Dr. Mendelsohn being there and people saying “Oh, this is the person who took an antibody, put it into the clinic, and it’s now in patients” and whatever, I think his whole interest in that area changed the situation to the point that we have more physician-scientists who want to come to MD Anderson than we can afford to hire. That has been I think his—I think he has many legacies, but one of them is growth, which you mentioned already, but the other one is really moving forward the agenda of translational research in the institution. END CLIP]

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What are your observations about Dr. Ronald DePinho now as coming in as the new—who is now the new president? Do you have any sensibility—?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

I’ve met him a few times. I’ve known him in the past in various contexts. I do not know him well. He is clearly a brilliant scientist, very smart person. He’s also very eloquent and I think has the ability to engage people in a very, very positive way, so I’m very optimistic that his tenure will also bring yet another incremental—quantum leap in terms of the progress of cancer in cancer treatment and especially in cancer research. I think he is the person who has been given a mandate to build basic science, really bring it to another level in the institution, and I think that’s where he’s headed.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

There have been a few individuals I’ve interviewed who have said that it seemed that MD Anderson was really fortunate in having the president that it needed at each particular kind of historical phase.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

That’s an interesting observation.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Yeah, because every leader has strengths and weaknesses and it just—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

And when Dr. Mendelsohn was appointed, I thought he was a rather surprising choice for the institution and I think people expected that—there were I think 4 surgeons and 1 medical person, Mendelsohn, and I think everyone expected that the institution would be run by a surgeon, and so when he was appointed people really did sit up and take notice. But I think with 20/20 hindsight it’s very clear that he was the person who was needed at the time, and I credit the board of regents for having the vision to recognize that, and I think they’ve done it again. Again, I thought Dr. DePinho was a very surprising choice. I thought it would be someone who had a much more solid clinical activity, someone who was more in tune with the clinical medicine, and so I was surprised at the choice. But again, I think in another 10 years time will tell, but I think it may continue to be the appropriate person for the appropriate time.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Yeah, it’s a nice testimony to the board of regents.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Absolutely, yeah.

Chapter 07: MD Anderson Presidents