By Waun Ki Hong, MD
Charles M. LeMaistre (1924–2017)
Charles A. LeMaistre, MD, past president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and a pioneer in cancer prevention and a strong advocate against tobacco use, passed away on January 28, 2017, in Houston at the age of 92. LeMaistre came to MD Anderson as President in 1978 after serving 7 years as Chancellor of The University of Texas System.
An Alabama native and graduate of the University of Alabama, Dr. LeMaistre earned his medical degree from Weil Cornell Medical College in 1947. After a medical residency at New York Hospital and an early career in infectious diseases at Cornell University, he left for Emory University in 1954, where he continued to work on infectious diseases and developed a particular interest in disease prevention. He helped set up a department of preventive medicine and served as its first chairman.In 1959, LeMaistre left Emory University for The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School as a professor of internal medicine and went on to become associate dean and then Vice Chancellor for health affairs. In 1971, he was elected as Chancellor of The University of Texas System and directed a huge expansion of the UT system to include the creation of several medical schools in Houston and San Antonio, among others.
LeMaistre served as a young physician on the first US Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health that, in 1964, issued its report identifying cigarettes as a major health hazard. In 1978, at age 54, he was named President of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. During his 18-year tenure, MD Anderson became a world leader in outpatient care of cancer patients. He is credited for bringing a strong research focus to the center, and as volunteer and past president of the American Cancer Society, Dr. LeMaistre campaigned tirelessly for over 3 decades to disseminate information on the hazards of smoking.
One of the innovative programs he established at MDACC as President was the state-of-the-art comprehensive cancer prevention program, which is generally regarded as a role model worldwide.
LeMaistre retired in 1996, concluding a distinguished medical career after 18 years as President of MD Anderson Cancer Center. In 2006, LeMaistre returned to MD Anderson part-time as a professor of behavioral science in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, which he founded years earlier. He spent the next 2 years writing about tobacco-related issues, including the evolution of public policies on tobacco control.
He was the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the President’s Award from the American Lung Association and the Gibson D. Lewis Award for Excellence in Cancer Control as well as the Public Service and Humanitarian Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews presented to him by the ACS. In 2015, LeMaistre was inducted into the Healthcare Hall of Fame. Dr. Ronald DePinho, the current President of MD Anderson, said, “Mickey LeMaistre was one of the great icons of 20th century medicine who pushed boundaries, drove innovation and positioned MD Anderson to be the world’s most impactful cancer center.” ✦
Note. This article is an abridged version of Hong WK. Charles M. LeMaistre (1924–2017): former M. D. Anderson president Dr. Charles A. LeMaistre passes away at 92. J Thorac Oncol. 2017 Apr;12(4):597-598. Used with permission.