Harry Gibbs, M.D.
As we launch the office for Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion, it is fitting to honor and spotlight Harry Gibbs, M.D., the institution’s first chief diversity officer, who died December 17, 2015. As our office evolves, foremost in our mind will be Dr. Gibbs’ goal: "to create a culture at MD Anderson that understands that one size does not fit all." This goal will be our goal.
Dr. Gibbs, a New York native, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was a graduate of Harvard Medical School. He joined MD Anderson in 1990 as an associate professor in Medicine and Cardiovascular Disease and became section chief four years later. In 1995, he was named associate vice president for institutional diversity and later was named chief diversity officer when the position became part of Human Resources. He became vice president in 2000. He also was associate professor of Health Disparities Research.
As our chief diversity officer and through the many initiatives he created, he was the voice of diversity at MD Anderson and focused on programs intended to make MD Anderson a more inclusive, creative and responsive employer. He created the Diversity Council, which advises the MD Anderson’s president and chief diversity officer on how to best promote diversity as a way of life here. The six employee networks that he created - Cancer in the Workplace; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender; Military Veterans Connection; Organization for Multicultural Employees; Organization for Women; PeopleFirst Network - reflect his expansive view of diversity. These networks serve as a vehicle to voice ideas, foster support systems, promote professional development and make recommendations to institutional leaders on matters which impact our population’s primary dimensions of diversity.
Janis Yadiny, associate vice president, Faculty and Academic Development, worked closely with Dr. Gibbs, who was a yearly presenter in the Faculty Leadership Academy. She recollects, "He was an extraordinary human being and a simply wonderful colleague and true friend… His commitment to diversity came from his own experience in the world and he was passionate about helping us understand what it meant to be the 'other.' When Harry spoke, he captivated his audience with his humor, knowledge and compassion. In some ways, I don’t think we as an institution were up to Harry. He was way ahead of us, breaking the trail."
Vickie Shannon, M.D., professor, was another admiring fan. She describes him as a "great guy!! He could have gone anywhere but chose to come to MD Anderson. How blessed we were to have him here."
Dr. Gibbs was active and recognized outside MD Anderson. He served as the first member representative of MD Anderson on the chancellor’s advisory task force on the status of minority faculty and staff at The University of Texas System. He also served as chair of the board of directors for the Texas Diversity Council. In 2012, MD Anderson earned a Community of Respect® designation from the Anti-Defamation League, and that same year the institution was recognized with the Lex Frieden Employment Award for non-profit employers by the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities.
One of his favorite quotes was, 'If we don’t change our direction, we're going to wind up where we were heading.' "Harry would always say this quote as a mantra," colleague Bill Wooten, executive director of the Office of Business Transformation, says. "To him, it meant you have to open your mind and look at different scenarios or you’ll repeat the same mistakes. To him, life was a spiral, not a circle, and you should always be advancing up."
"Harry was a great colleague, collaborator and innovative thinker whose philosophy and collaborative approach will serve us well as we continue work to create an inclusive culture where women and minorities choose to be," says Elizabeth Travis, Ph.D., associate vice president, Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion. "Please join us in this spiral-upward journey. It was always a great pleasure and fun to work with him, and I learned something new every time. He will be missed by many."