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R. Lee Clark, M.D.

Director — 1946-1968
President — 1968-1978

R. Lee Clark, M.D., was a native Texan who for 32 years guided the growth of MD Anderson from its early operations in a renovated family residence to an internationally known comprehensive cancer center. 

His efforts to ensure quality cancer care for all Texans were matched by enormous energies to extend treatment advances to cancer patients in every corner of the world.

When he retired as MD Anderson's president in 1978, Clark had served as chief administrator of a University of Texas System institution longer than anyone in the system's history.

Two years later, he was named a UT System Professor of Surgery and Oncology, only the third such system-wide appointment and the first by the UT System Board of Regents in the health sciences.

First full-time director

Clark's association with The University of Texas MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, as it would next be named, began in 1946, when he was named the first full-time director and surgeon-in-chief. At that time, the hospital was housed in a converted home on the old Baker Estate south of downtown Houston.

Several surplus Army barracks were bought and remodeled to provide outpatient clinics, a research laboratory, one air-conditioned operating room and temporary inpatient beds while a permanent hospital was being planned and built.

Under Clark's direction, the initial 234-bed MD Anderson facility in the Texas Medical Center was opened in 1954. Three major expansions completed while he was director and president eventually made the complex among the world's largest cancer centers.

Presidential appointment

His title was changed to president of MD Anderson in 1968. He became president of the UT System Cancer Center four years later, when all UT health institutions were reorganized. The current name, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, was adopted in 1988.

Although a surgeon himself, Clark was an early advocate of the team approach for treating cancer patients. Such a multidisciplinary concept became the model for numerous other cancer patient care programs.

MD Anderson was designated one of the first three comprehensive cancer centers in the United States under terms of the National Cancer Act of 1971. By the time Clark retired, MD Anderson was the prototype for comprehensive cancer facilities in many countries.

National leadership roles

Starting in 1972, Clark served for five years as the senior scientist on the President's Cancer Panel that was created to oversee implementation of the National Cancer Act. He was elected national president of the American Cancer Society in 1976-77.

Probably no other cancer specialist worked longer, or more persuasively, to advance cancer control throughout the world than Clark. He traveled many thousands of miles just during the several years he chaired the Committee on International Collaborative Activities, a 14-members group formed by the International Union Against Cancer.

Clark died from complications following surgery in May 1994.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center