Among Friends: Getting to know MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors member Sam Susser
Getting to know a passionate advocate for MD Anderson Cancer Center
Sam L. Susser, president and chief executive officer of Susser Holdings II, has lived most of his life in Corpus Christi. He and his wife, Catherine, are proud that their daughter and two sons represent their family’s sixth generation to be raised there. His first job after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in 1985 was as an investment banker at Salomon Brothers in New York. In 1988, in response to the banking crisis in Texas, he moved back home and supported his family’s business through challenging times. He has been a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors since 2013, serving on the Clinical Operations and Competitive Assessment Advisory Group, the Children’s Cancer Hospital Advisory Board Group, the Governmental Relations Committee and the Executive Committee.
What three words best describe you?
Intense, competitive, loyal.
How did you get involved in the fight against cancer?
By seeing the extraordinary care MD Anderson provided to my father-in-law, George Gilbert, and our dear friend, James Ragan.
What motivates you in advancing MD Anderson’s efforts in Making Cancer History®?
Having witnessed firsthand the savage impact of this disease on family members and close friends, we believe it is vital to invest all we can in the research and trials that will hopefully eradicate cancer, as we have with so many other diseases over the past 75 years.
Three and a half years ago, Chip Bonner, my dearest friend and 25-year business partner, was diagnosed with glioblastoma. Dr. Raymond Sawaya and Dr. Marta Penas-Prado brought absolutely everything that technology and science had to this fight. MD Anderson staff and leadership brought incredible compassion to Chip and to his loving family. Chip lived three great years from the date of his diagnosis. I can never repay MD Anderson for what they have done for us.
Tell us about your work on the Governmental Relations committee.
I see my role as providing counsel and support to Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, and Mark Moreno, vice president for Governmental Relations. Much of MD Anderson’s funding comes from government, and we cannot take those dollars for granted. Elected officials and the staffs who run their offices and agencies generally don’t have direct, firsthand experience with MD Anderson and its unique and vital role in the fight against cancer. Our efforts to educate these decision makers and influencers must be continuous, strategic and relentless, because of the fiscal pressure on state and federal budgets that arise from taking care of an aging baby boomer population, unmet needs to improve education and large federal fiscal deficits.
What do you find most rewarding about your service on the BOV?
Seeing Mark Moreno and our leadership team serve as scientific and clinical educational resources for policy makers in Austin and Washington. I am inspired by the opportunity to help advance cancer prevention and control efforts through the proposed Tobacco 21 legislation in the 2019 Texas legislative session. Raising the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 would ultimately save hundreds of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in health care costs. I am also grateful whenever we can assist a new patient access this great institution.
Any hobbies, interests outside of work, MD Anderson?
Although I haven’t played competitively in over 20 years, I remain an avid golfer and love trying to improve while enjoying fellowship with the many dear friends who share my passion for the game. Sometimes it seems silly for a grown man to enjoy the game of golf as much as I do. It is remarkable how many business and personal friendships I have because of golf. I look forward to hopefully spending more time on the course when I get to the next stage in life.
My wife and I are huge believers in health care and education, and we both devote a lot of time and resources trying to make a difference. For example, I have served on the Driscoll Board (the Children’s Hospital System in South Texas) for 18 years, and I am currently chairman and very active on a number of boards that serve The University of Texas at Austin. I am especially proud of Catherine’s efforts to improve literacy, and she currently serves as president of the Corpus Christi Independent School District Board of Trustees. She has really had a positive impact on so many children.
What’s most important in life?
Honestly, for us, it is our kids. Like every parent I have ever known, we are only as happy as our unhappiest child. We are close to being empty nesters, and we savor every minute we can be with them and have become increasingly protective of our calendars.
As the years roll by, I become more and more appreciative of our parents’ unconditional love and the support that our close family and friends provide us with respect to raising our kids, supporting the businesses we lead and the elected officials we count on. We would not be able to support MD Anderson, Driscoll Children’s Hospital and the schools and universities if we didn’t have such a “village” standing by our side.