The First African American Basic Researcher at MD Anderson

Title

The First African American Basic Researcher at MD Anderson

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Identifier

JonesL_01_20140115-Final_Clip01

Publication Date

1-15-2014

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

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.

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Mm-hmm. You were the first African American hired in the basic sciences?

Lovell Jones, PhD

Mm-hmm.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Tell me about the environment for those of us who would consider ourselves diverse.

Lovell Jones, PhD

I think because I was brought in with auspices of LeMaistre, it put a bubble, to some extent, over me. A lot of people didn’t believe I was an ethnic minority because Anderson doesn’t hire ethnic minorities in those positions. I remember Lou Rodriguez [phonetic], who was Hispanic, actually is from Spain but listed as an Hispanic on the registry here, I joked with him, I said I used to have very good relations with the janitorial staff at Berkeley and UC San Francisco. I could go anywhere, get keys to anything. When I was a graduate student, I could get keys to the library and knew what the alarm systems were. They told me the codes and the keys so I could go study, because they knew I had a child and those responsibilities, and so I could come in different hours, and as long as I left it the way I found it, it was fine. I joked, one night I was in the library—the way of getting into the old library at Berkeley was to go through the herbarium and take an elevator down into the middle, and one night I took the elevator and opened the door, and there was a campus policeman standing in front of me. And I put my key back in. I said, “Oh, I forgot my mop.” (laughter) Because you weren’t supposed to be in there at that time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, god. (laughs)

Lovell Jones, PhD

And went back up. Nothing came out of it. (laughter) So you can use it sometimes, but anyway.

But for the first year I was here, I could never get close to the janitorial staff. They were just—and Lou said to me one day when we were at lunch, and I said, “How do you do it? Do you buy them liquor? What do you do? Presents?”

He said, “It won’t work for you.”

I said, “What do you mean, it won’t work for me?”

He says, “You’re a war baby.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Huh. What does that mean?

Lovell Jones, PhD

I said, “A war baby?”

He says, “Yeah, you’re not black. You’re foreign. You’re just trying to pass yourself off as black.”

I said, “Why would I do that?”

He says, “Because the staff, the janitorial staff, have come to a decision that the institution will not hire a black person.”

So I finally one night went down with some liquor and sat in their meeting room where they were having lunch and I said, “I’m black. You want to pull my birth certificate, here it is.”

And they went, “Ah! They did do it.”

I said, “Yep, they did do it.” And broke the ice.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That’s interesting.

Lovell Jones, PhD

But when I came, there were six of us, five clinicians and myself. No, five of us. One had already been here, Jerry Saxon [phonetic], and I remember Jerry because Anderson used to have the Anderson proms, big, like a faculty dinner/ball with fine food and everything at one of the big hotels downtown as a retirement celebration for retirees. DePinho put an end to that. He went to one and saw the food and the extravagance, and wrote up an article and the Board of Regents got wind and it went by the wayside. I thought it was harmless, but anyway. So that ended for a number of years, and that’s how they came up with the faculty convocation to replace it.

But I remember going to the first one. The second one, my wife went with her purse lined in plastic, because they couldn’t eat all the shrimp that was there, so she just stuffed it. She says, “I’m not going to let this go to waste. I’m going to take this home.” (laughter)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That’s funny.

Lovell Jones, PhD

And I turned to Jerry and I said, “Jerry, as long as Fletcher,” Gilbert Fletcher, “is here, you’ll be here, but when Fletcher goes, you’re gone, because Fletcher is your bubble. He developed all these therapies, world-renowned, he saw something in you, brought you aboard, but the [unclear]—.” Because he came, I think, about two years. Actually three years. He was a fellow. Fletcher brought him in as one of the first black fellows and then brought him on the faculty. And Fletcher retired that year, and the following year Jerry was gone.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, wow.

Lovell Jones, PhD

Because the roles changed. So he ended up at Cleveland Clinic, and that’s when he went to Cleveland Clinic.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Did you have any similar concerns for yourself here?

Lovell Jones, PhD

Yes and no. Yes, I did, and then, well, I realized that I was in kind of a unique situation with Mickey [Charles A. LeMaistre, MD [Oral History Interview] ], because I knew him. I’d met him in California. And in fact, when I came up for promotion from assistant to associate professor, they requested eighteen letters of recommendation on me.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What’s the usual?

Lovell Jones, PhD

Three to six. And five of them were from the National Academy of Science. There were two Nobel laureates, and there were two foreign research directors, J.G. Forestberg [phonetic] and Jan Gustafson [phonetic]. Jan and I joke about it. He’s now over at the University of Houston now. But we joke about it a lot. And my mentor, Finn Siiteri, he was one of the ones asked to write, and he says, “I think they’re putting you up for a chair level.”

And I said, “Oh, wow! As an associate with a chair?”

He says, “No, an electric chair.” (laughs)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, god.

Lovell Jones, PhD

Well, all of the letters came back. I had met all these people in San Francisco when I was in Berkeley, and I have to say—give credit to my mentor, Howard Burn. He introduced me to everyone who came to see him, to touch his cloak, because he was a member of the Academy and the whole bit. So he introduced me and the rest of his graduate students, so we got to know most of these people. So most of them knew me through him and not here so they—I assume, I didn’t see them, but I assume they were all very glowing of me.

So one of the members, Abby Mizell [phonetic]—I haven’t said his name in years—was the clinical faculty representative to the Promotion Committee, and I’d gotten to know Abby pretty well. And Abby walked out in the hallway—this is how I knew it, because he walked down the hallway and he says, “You’re going to have to buy me a new pair of reading classes.”

And I said, “Why?”

He says, “Your package is like this, and it’s got eighteen letters.” And he says, “I’ve never reviewed a packet for assistant professor with as much stuff as in yours, and, in fact, I was thinking about loaning some of your letters to some of the other candidates, just wipe your name out, put their name in, and give it to them. They’re just that good.”

I go, “Oh.”

He says, “But you’re not going to get tenure.”

And I said, “Why?”

He says, “Because you know the rule. You have to be put up for both your hospital position and your university position, and you’re only being put up for university position.”

And I said, “But, Abby, it’s easy to get the hospital position promotion.”

He said, “Yeah, do a little of anything and you get promoted, but it’s the academic one that’s hard.”

And I said, “But why?”

And he says, “I don’t have to tell you why.”

So when it went up to the Board of Regents, from what I heard, they looked at it, they looked it, they looked at my packet, and they said, “Is this person a minority?” So it came back with me being promoted in both—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, it did?

Lovell Jones, PhD

—areas. But they couldn’t give me tenure, because tenure has to be requested by the institution.

The First African American Basic Researcher at MD Anderson

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