What three words would you use to describe yourself?
I have a lust for life, adventure, travel and learning and am a positive thinker, driven and laser-focused. Three words? Live, love, learn.
What are the secrets to success?
Desire, determination, vision and, above all, a positive attitude.
Who do you count among your mentors?
C.V. Starr, founder of American International Group, who arranged for me to work in AIG's general counsel's office during law school and, after graduation, at high levels in Washington, D.C.; and Dan Lufkin and the late Jay Pritzker, close friends and business partners over decades, extraordinary men who taught me how to be creative and pursue and obtain my goals.
What is most important in life?
Loyalty to family, friends and the institutions and causes to which I am committed. My father, who had an irrepressibly positive view of life, taught his children and grandchildren to do the best with our abilities and to take care of each other and those in need. My mother, who will be 97 this November, continues to reinforce those values.
Describe a particularly life-changing event.
At age 18, while a freshman in college, I was the only survivor of an alcohol-related car accident. I have not touched hard liquor since, and rarely drink. That tragic experience affected me deeply and motivated me to make a positive difference with my life.
Have there been other turning points?
In 1976, after declining an offer to be the fourth founding partner of KKR, a global investment firm, with Jerome Kohlberg Jr., Henry Kravis and George Roberts, I left New York to marry my fiancee in Corpus Christi and settle in her hometown to be near her family.
Tell us a little-known fact about Mel Klein.
In the 1990s, I co-founded two independent film companies that backed "Sophie's Choice" and other movies. A favorite project was "Getting Away With Murder," starring Dan Akroyd, Jack Lemmon, Lily Tomlin and Bonnie Hunt, and produced by Penny Marshall. The director, Harvey Miller, let me be assistant director for several days; my daughter Jacqueline had a speaking part with Akroyd.
What do you do for fun?
Play tennis, work out, hike and read, mainly nonfiction.
What motivated you to be an advocate for MD Anderson?
My mother-in-law was treated at MD Anderson for lymphoma, and my father was treated for multiple myeloma by a doctor who trained there. After he died, Mickey LeMaistre (Charles LeMaistre, M.D., then MD Anderson president) invited me to join the Board of Visitors. It was an honor, and still is, to be associated with the most outstanding, dedicated and compassionate people in the field.
How has your own cancer experience affected your perspective?
In 2011, after a diagnosis of atypical amelanotic melanoma, I immediately came to MD Anderson. Now I look forward to celebrating my five-year survivorship, in January - especially considering a very recent second occurrence, again successfully treated at MD Anderson. My personal cancer experience, coupled with the losses of my mother-in-law, father and sister, in 2010 to T cell prolymphocytic leukemia, has strengthened my opinion of the universal quality that permeates the institution. It is a beacon of hope, thanks to the most extraordinary people in the world - from the leadership at the top of the professionals on staff to the volunteers - all united in one goal: to end cancer. I am committed to doing my part in advancing their efforts in Making Cancer History®.