Obituary for Charles Aubrey LeMaistre, M.D.

Charles Aubrey LeMaistre, M.D.


Charles Aubrey “Mickey” LeMaistre, M.D., beloved physician, father, trusted friend and husband, passed away in Houston on January 28, 2017, less than two weeks before his 93rd birthday. Mickey was the epitome of a man who cared for others and practiced great discipline in his life.

Mickey LeMaistre’s career began at age 10, as a deckhand spotting fish for tourists in Hogtown – an area now known as Destin, Florida. Although the LeMaistre family had moved to Tuscaloosa following his father’s death when Mickey, the youngest of six children, was not yet five, the gulf coast was cathartic to him and adjacent to Mickey’s birthplace (at home) in Lockhart, Alabama. There, Mickey had grownup with a best friend, who was also the husband of the family’s cook, a gentle well-mannered man named “Sport.” He and his wife were truly a part of the close-knit family, and this gentleman taught Mickey to fish in the ponds of his father’s employ, the Jackson Lumber Company, the world’s largest rift pine-flooring mill. Being back on his home turf that summer allowed Mickey to solidify memories of his father, recalling how they often rode together in the company’s locomotives while blowing train whistles. The following summer, Mickey lived with another family some two hours away from Tuscaloosa and was employed to sweep sawdust and debris from the construction sites of countless new homes.

Often bored in grade school, Mickey begged his mother, a former schoolteacher, to let him stay home so she could teach him. But for all his early discontent with learning he quickly found his passion, and medicine became Mickey’s “deep practice” - as author Daniel Coyle has termed - that which requires all your strength and attention and becomes the most fulfilling thing you can possibly do.

As a young man, two prominent local Tuscaloosa physicians regularly took Mickey on house calls with them into deep, rural Alabama. Although Mickey did not grow tall with broad shoulders until high school, he was an outstanding athlete and had enormous upper body strength. He would hold retractors for hours during emergency surgical procedures often conducted in the wee hours on kitchen tables. His compensation was simple – he learned the Art of Medicine, while the physicians received at best one dollar – or a chicken – for their services.

Mickey was the product of a loving but rigorous Christian family, headed by his widowed mother. When Mickey and his next oldest brother won first and second place in the Alabama State Tennis Championship, they excitedly spoke of their latest accomplishments. The next morning at dawn, Mrs. LeMaistre played her two youngest sons on their clay court, beating both, and then cooked them a traditional Southern breakfast asking, “Boys, did you learn something today?” Once again, humility was taught – that it is not about you and what you have achieved but always about your service to others.

Graduating high school in 1941, Mickey was eager to begin at the United States Military Academy (West Point, Army). But just one week before he was to board the train for school, a friend’s horseplay, jumping on the running board of Mickey’s green Model A Ford and playfully punching the driver’s window, sent plate glass flying into Mickey’s eye (in 1937 the use of safety glass was finally mandated for all car models); thus, Mickey became ineligible for matriculation, something that ultimately Mickey believed saved him from an early death due to a certainty that Academy Graduates would see heavy combat in World War II.

So Mickey reluctantly lived at home with his sister and mother while he attended The University of Alabama and was a Cadet Sergeant in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. An excellent premed student, Mickey played freshman football and ultimately suffered a broken pelvis requiring a long hospitalization in a full body cast with no certainty that he would ever walk again.

Mickey’s next-door neighbor, who was also his longtime sandlot sports coach, was Alabama head football Coach Frank Thomas. As a young boy, Mickey was the Crimson Tide’s “mascot,” and in 1934, Alabama completed a 10–0 season. Mickey and his brother George accompanied the team on the train to California witnessing from the sidelines their victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and claiming the national championship.

Coach Thomas’s player, Paul “Bear” Bryant, often partook of a second dinner with the Thomases after training and then time and again, he would walk next door to visit with Mickey’s mother for another home cooked meal and a long evening talk to relieve his homesickness. Routinely, Mickey would stay up past his bedtime to console Mr. Bryant, and they became the best of friends. (Years later as UT Chancellor, Mickey introduced Coach Bryant to his good friend Coach Darrell K. Royal. Alabama football benefitted greatly from this new friendship – especially with the sharing of Royal’s offensive intricacies and the use of his “wishbone.”)

Mickey LeMaistre’s professors at the University of Alabama sent him to enroll at Cornell University Medical School in New York City. LeMaistre then concurrently traveled to Ft. McClelland, becoming a Pvt. Enlisted Reserve Corps of the Army, later being honorably discharged in 1946. He was conferred the degree of Doctor of Medicine in the spring of 1947 after actually completing his studies in 1946 (the War delayed the timely granting of degrees).

Mickey continued his training with an Internship and Chief Residency in Medicine at The New York Hospital and became an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cornell Medical College. His Postdoctoral Research Fellowship was with Dr. Walsh McDermott, an educator, researcher and professor of public health and medicine. Together they performed drug development for infectious disease, creating antibiotics and also testing antimicrobial drugs. Their work was also of immense important to the Navajo nation, creating “Many Farms,” eradicating tuberculosis, and treating an infectious hepatitis epidemic amongst children in boarding school in Tuba City, Arizona.

The penniless medical student and the nascent professor also shared a passion for both the NY Yankees and music. Mickey was privileged to sublet Aaron Copeland’s furnished NYC apartment during the composer’s extended sabbatical, and he often received a last minute seat, for free, to an opening night musical performance on Broadway.

In 1951, Dr. LeMaistre, a Commissioned Officer Senior Assistant Surgeon (comparable to the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army) was called to active duty. He reported to the CDC in Atlanta to attend the first courses of the Epidemic Intelligence Service and commuted from his work in New York City. Later, Honorably Discharged, he remained a physician on active duty in non-military status of the United States Public Health Service.

Also in 1951 and while in Atlanta, he obtained a rare weekend pass to see his mother. The brief trip was fortuitous and lead to a devoted 52-year marriage between Mickey LeMaistre and University of Alabama coed, Joyce Trapp. Married in 1952 in his uniform, the couple’s first child was born in 1954 in New York. Dr. LeMaistre shortly thereafter was offered a department chairmanship at Cornell but he demurred and the 29 year old and his family drove to Atlanta where he became Assistant, and then Associate Professor, and ultimately, the first chair and Professor of Preventive and Community Health Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Three subsequent LeMaistre children arrived in short order and the family next relocated to Dallas in 1959. Mickey was a Professor of Medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School; Senior Attending Staff Member at Parkland Memorial Hospital; Medical Director Chest Division at Woodlawn Hospital; and then was named Associate Dean of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in 1965.

In the 1960s, tobacco products were routinely consumed by 60 to 70 million Americans and Big Tobacco companies boldly brushed aside all adverse evidence as “mere statistical association.” A 1962 Gallup Poll found that only 38 percent of respondents believed that smoking caused lung cancer.

The Royal College of Physicians in London chose Ash Wednesday to publish an ominous pronouncement on the dangers and disease consequences of tobacco smoking, and the unprecedented and unjustifiable market freedoms enjoyed by manufacturers of cigarettes and other tobacco products. There was mounting available evidence as to the adverse health effects of tobacco, and targeted written demands by national health agencies in the U.S. were sent to the White House to address the mounting epidemic.

On May 23, 1962, well-known investigative reporter Lee Edgar Prina asked President John F. Kennedy during a White House press conference about the landmark RCP Report, saying, “What are you and your administration going to do about the tobacco problem?”

The President appointed a ten man Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health with a report to U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry. Dr. LeMaistre was chosen for the Committee as the youngest member of the distinguished body. Beginning in November 1962, the ten volunteers –each with full time careers – painstakingly reviewed all available research.

The Committee, which had begun under President Kennedy, held its secure Report review meeting prior to publication, in the basement of the new National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD. They watched on a small black and white TV as the horse-drawn caisson carried President Kennedy’s flag-covered casket down along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state.

The game-changing 1964 Report of the Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health to the Surgeon General was issued at a press conference on Saturday morning, January 11, 1964.

At the request of the Advisory Committee, Dr. LeMaistre then officially presented the Report to President Lyndon B. Johnson. There were no questions or comments. Instead, the President stated that famed tobacco lobbyist Abe Fortas, who was present at the meeting, would advise as to the Report’s conclusions.

The University of Texas Board of Regents detached Dr. LeMaistre from his duties as Associate Dean to head a yearlong study of the future health needs of Texas – The Report to the Coordinating Board: University of Texas Medical System: Survey of Current Status of Effectiveness and Projections: September 28, 1966 was presented to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, showing that Texas had but 25% of the capacity needed for producing physicians for the next two decades. Dr. LeMaistre was subsequently named Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs with the responsibility of effective and economical implementation and coordination of the report’s recommendations, which forecast educational design to meet the future health needs of Texans, such as the creation of The UT School of Public Health and the Medical School in Houston.

Dr. LeMaistre later assumed the positions of Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Deputy Chancellor, and in 1970, Chancellor-Elect. In 1971, Dr. LeMaistre became Chancellor of The University of Texas System, with his wife Joyce as the First Lady. They family resided in the newly built Bauer House for seven years.

Dr. LeMaistre became the second President of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in 1978. Over the next 18 years, he led the NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center to become first in the world for Cancer Care. In 2006, Dr. LeMaistre returned to work as a part-time Professor of Behavioral Science in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Science. He spent the next two years writing about tobacco-related issues, including the evolution of public policies on tobacco control. The book will be published later this year.

President of the American Cancer Society in 1986, Dr. LeMaistre stressed tobacco control measures as a key component of all cancer prevention. In Houston, MD Anderson established the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Science – an idea stemming back to Dr. LeMaistre’s first year in medical school. While leading MD Anderson, he also developed the appreciable concept of patient care provided via multidisciplinary clinics, with Prostate and Ovarian cancers as the first two such ambulatory outpatient treatment options.

In addition to his honorary degrees, awards and memberships on charitable boards, Dr. LeMaistre was most proud to be awarded in 1995 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Distinguished Public Service Medal for his leadership, dedication and commitment to NASA as the first Chair of the NASA-NIH Advisory Committee on Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Member of the Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications Advisory Committee and Member of the NASA Advisory Council as first appointed by President Richard M. Nixon.

Dr. LeMaistre too was immensely proud of his longtime service as an Honorary Life Trustee of the Menninger Foundation; The Alumni Award for Distinction, Cornell University; The Distinguished Alumnus Award, The University of Alabama School of Medicine; The Mr. South Texas Award; The Medal of Honor, The American Cancer Society; Life Member, MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors; and the honorific title of Chancellor Emeritus bestowed upon him by the UT System Board of Regents.

Among his final accomplishments, Dr. LeMaistre and his wife Andreae, as two minds thinking together, established in 2005 their marriage mission – creating and staffing an active volunteer patient advocacy program. Together they have cared for more than three thousand patients. The LeMaistres have also actively served together as volunteers in support of the Patient-Driven Initiative and Petition to Lower the High Price of Cancer Drugs as mentored by close friend, Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Leukemia, MD Anderson.

Looking at the countless framed awards and photos in Dr. Mickey LeMaistre’s home office, you will find a large portrait of Ashbel Smith, M.D. The artist, Texan Tom Lea, presented this drawing to Dr. LeMaistre – he knew that Dr. Ashbel Smith was Mickey’s hero.

Sam Houston named Dr. Ashbel Smith as Surgeon General of the Army of the Republic of Texas. As a physician, he started the first hospital in Houston and helped draft the Texas Medical Association’s constitution and later served as its president. Dr. Smith also urged Texas to underwrite the education of every child in Texas regardless of race. His top priority was the formation of a statewide university of the highest caliber, and the Governor created The University of Texas, appointing the good doctor to be the first head of the UT Board of Regents.

On November 15, 1998, former President George H.W. Bush, who joined the MD Anderson Board of Visitors in 1993 and became the head of the BOV under his good friend, wrote to Mickey, saying, “Mickey’s work in the field of cancer has touched all our lives, and I am convinced there are people alive today because of his dedication to this great cause. Congratulations to Dr. LeMaistre from the entire Bush family. Your work will outlive us all.”

Dr. Charles A. “Mickey” LeMaistre is survived by his loving wife of 12 years, Andreae, whom he called Andi; and the children from Dr. LeMaistre’s first marriage to Joyce Trapp LeMaistre, who died in 2003; Charles Frederick LeMaistre, M.D (Loretta Lee LeMaistre), William Sydney LeMaistre, J.D (Bradley K. Gabeline), Joyce Anne LeMaistre, M.D (Ron Charles Philo, Ph.D.), and Helen LeMaistre Meyer (Theodore Frederick Meyer IV). Also surviving Mickey are his Grandchildren, Court McLeod LeMaistre (Jessica Lowe LeMaistre), Collin O’Meara LeMaistre (Robyn Cranford LeMaistre), Julia Ashland LeMaistre, D.V.M, Helen Aubrey Meyer, Theodore Frederick Meyer V, and Frederick Ian LeMaistre; and his Great Grandchildren, Caroline Lowe LeMaistre, Charles McLeod LeMaistre, and Ella O’Meara LeMaistre.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorial gifts may be made to the Charles Aubrey and Andreae LeMaistre Fund at MD Anderson: MD Anderson Cancer Center, P.O. Box 4486, Houston, Texas 77210-4486 or Gifts will be utilized in the fight against Big Tobacco to prevent needless deaths and suffering. A foundation is in formation to continue Mickey’s legacy and support this fundamental responsibility to prevent and end Cancer.

A Memorial Service will be held Friday, February 17, 2017 at 4 p.m. at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, 2450 River Oaks Blvd., Houston, Texas, with complimentary valet parking.

A reception will be held immediately following the Service in Sumners Hall. Mickey’s Honorary Pallbearers will be Joseph E. Batson, Diane C. Bodurka, M.D., Elise D. Cook, M.D., James S. Corbett, John H. Duncan, Sr., Kenneth T. “Tommy” Fibich, Wendy Lee Gramm, Mohit Khera, M.D., John McCormack, J. Mark Miller, Alan F. Nicholson, William W. “Bill” Nicholson, and The Honorable Mark Wells White

The Rev. Dr. Douglas W. Richnow, D. Min., Senior Associate Rector, a close personal friend who married Mickey and Andi in January 2005, will officiate, with The Rev. Dr. Clay Lein, Rector.

Inurnment in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas will be on March 7, 2017 at 1 p.m. Together with the Shivers Foundation, the family will host a reception that evening at 5 p.m. at The Headliners Club, in Austin, Texas.