Submitted: 8 May 2015
Four interview sessions: 15 January 2014, 16 January 2014, 30 January 2014, 1 May 2015
Approximate total duration: 7 hours 30 minutes
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD
Note: Dr. Jones was interviewed in August of 2012 for the HistoryMakers African-American Video Oral History Collection.
For supplementary materials:
Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Interview Subject:
Dr. Lovell Jones (b. 12 January 1949, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) came to MD Anderson in 1980 to join the faculty of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. He retired in 2013 and holds the title of Professor Emeritus in the Department of Health Disparities Research in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. Dr. Jones established his research reputation through his work on the role of synthetic estrogens in gynecologic cancers. Later he focused on health disparities research. He worked at MD Anderson and on the national stage to develop the understanding of “health equity.” He was responsible for developing minority health initiatives such as the Biennial Symposium Series on ‘Minorities, the Medically Underserved and Cancer’ (’88), the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer (’95), the Inter-cultural Cancer Council, and the Health Disparities Education Awareness Research and Training Consortium ’02).
Major Topics Covered:
Personal and educational background; Evolution of awareness of minority issues and health disparity
Evolution of research on the natural/synthetic estrogens and gynecologic cancers
Development of combination therapies for ovarian cancer
Overview of health inequity (health disparity) and minority health needs in the context of American culture, Texas, Houston, and MD Anderson
Diversity at MD Anderson; climate for minorities; attitudes of leadership
Regarding the Transcript and Audio Files
In accordance with oral history best practices, this transcript was intentionally created to preserve the conversational language of the interview sessions. (Language has not been edited to conform to written prose).
The interview subject was given the opportunity to review the transcript. Any requested editorial changes are indicated in brackets [ ], and the audio file has not correspondingly altered.
Redactions to the transcript and audio files may have been made in response to the interview subject’s request or to eliminate personal health information in compliance with HIPAA.
Interview Session One: 15 January 2014
An Interest in Estrogen and an Important Discovery
Chapter 01 / The Researcher
A Conversation with Dr. R. Lee Clark
Chapter 02 / Key MD Anderson Figures
Coming to MD Anderson to Link Discovery to Delivery of Care
Chapter 03 / Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas
The First African-American Basic Researcher at MD Anderson
Chapter 04 / Diversity Issues
The Minority Faculty Association; What Health Disparities Can Mean
Chapter 05 / Building the Institution
Interview Session Two: 16 January 2014
The Effect of Estrogen on Cancer
Chapter 06 / The Researcher
Research on Cancer in Diversity Populations
Chapter 07 / The Researcher
Initiatives to Foreground Minority Populations and Diversity
Chapter 08 / Building the Institution
A Stressful Relationship with MD Anderson Administration
Chapter 09 / Diversity Issues
Early Experiences with Race and Civil Rights Instill a Commitment to Equity
Chapter 10 / Personal Background
The Intercultural Council; the Biennial Symposium, The Center for Research on Minority Health
Chapter 11 / An Institutional Unit
Interview Session Three: 30 January 2014
Race at MD Anderson: Slow to Make Real Changes for Minorities
Chapter 12 / Diversity Issues
MD Anderson Leaders and Diversity
Chapter 13 / Overview
The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer: Developing Grassroots Action for Health Equity
Chapter 14 / Diversity Issues
Minority Experiences in Healthcare: The Origins of Health Inequity
Chapter 15 / Diversity Issues
Evolution of Thinking About Race and Inequity
Chapter 16 / Personal Background
Staying at an Institution Because They Want You To Leave
Chapter 17 / Obstacles, Challenges, Barriers
Interview Session Four: 1 May 2014
The Health Disparities Education, Research and Training Consortium and Program
Chapter 18 / Beyond the Institution
Creating the SECURE Project
Chapter 19 / Beyond the Institution
The Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research
Chapter 20 / Beyond the Institution
Obstacles to Improving Healthcare in Texas
Chapter 21 / Beyond the Institution
Denied Privileges as an Emeritus Professor; MD Anderson’s Administrative Structure
Chapter 22 / Critical Evaluation
Writing, Teaching, and A Legacy Left
Chapter 23 / Post-Retirement Activities
Interview Session One: 15 January 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 01 (The Researcher)
An Interest in Estrogen and an Important Discovery (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Jones talks about the graduate research that brought him to MD Anderson.
He sketches the story of how he left the University of California, San Francisco to join MD Anderson to develop a research lab in endocrinology.
He describes the research he conducted at on combined therapies for gynecologic diseases. In particular, his research had to do with the long-term impact of DES (diethylstilbestrol –synthetic estrogen) in promoting cancer, the work for which he is best known.
He explains how his interest in medicine and oncology developed. He lists the individuals he worked with and describes the state of the field at the time.
Next Dr. Jones explains that at MD Anderson he was hired to develop a pioneering model of a department with collaborative research connections supported by clinicians. Dr. Jones explains that the Endocrine Research Program was elevated to a Section, which him as head. He explains the reporting structure.
Chapter 02 (Key MD Anderson Figures)
A Conversation with Dr. R. Lee Clark (listen/read)
Dr. Jones tells about a conversation he had with the first president of MD Anderson, Dr. R. Lee Clark, in the faculty restaurant of the Mayfair Hotel on the MD Anderson campus. He explains that Dr. Clark lived on the top floor of the hotel and had “his own table” at the restaurant. Dr. Jones was accidentally seated at that table, and Dr. Clark joined him. Dr. Jones recalls asking Dr. Clark how he came up with the idea for MD Anderson. Paraphrasing in his own terms, Dr. Jones says Dr. Clark was as concerned as he was about “linking discovery and delivery.” He also recalls Dr. Clark speaking about decisions he would have made differently: relations with the UT System; dual appointments for faculty; the tenure system. Dr. Jones offers his own, negative view of the term tenure system.
Chapter 03 (Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas)
Coming to MD Anderson to Link Discovery to Delivery of Care (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Jones explains that his mother’s breast cancer diagnosis motivated him to leave the University of California and come to MD Anderson. He comments on attitudes toward breast cancer in the African-American community. He recalls his realization at the time: “No matter how many discoveries I made, it’s hollow if there’s no impact on people I love.” He looked for an institution with more connection and was also interested in being closer to Baton Rouge, where his mother lived. He notes that he knew about the history of racism in Houston. He recalls his conversation with mentor, Dr. Pentti K. Siiteri about MD Anderson.
Chapter 04 (Diversity Issues)
The First African-American Basic Researcher at MD Anderson (listen/read)
Here Dr. Jones talks about race-related experiences at MD Anderson.
He observes that he was one of five black clinicians at MD Anderson when he was hired. He explains that because of Dr. Charles LeMaistre’s support, there was a protective “bubble” around him. He tells about establishing a rapport with the janitorial staff, who didn’t believe he was black because “MD Anderson doesn’t hire black doctors.”
Dr. Jones notes that a ‘bubble of protection’ could make diversity hires much more vulnerable when their sponsors left. He says he was required to present eighteen letters of support for his promotion from assistant to associate professor (as opposed to the usual three). He explains challenges in his tenure and promotion processes.
Chapter 05 (Building the Institution)
The Minority Faculty Association; What Health Disparities Can Mean (listen/read)
Dr. Jones talks about his work in the late eighties to address inequities in the treatment of minority faculty members.
He tells how the Minority Faculty Organization was formed and discusses controversies surrounding it and its impact. He tells the story of the Association’s push for the first survey of salary equity. He discusses the severe salary inequities discovered and the changes it led to.
Dr. Jones next talks about the demographics of MD Anderson’s patient population in comparison to the demographics of cancer patients beyond the institution. He mentions working with Dr. Martin Raber on a strategic plan to integrate a broader patient population into MD Anderson. He demonstrates the idea of health disparities with a story about the son of a wealthy Houston family whose son died because there was no acute care center within easy distance to treat his injury.
Interview Session Two: 16 January 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 06 (The Researcher)
The Effect of Estrogen on Cancer (listen/read)
Dr. Jones talks his goals in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology: bring reproductive endocrinology into the conversation about cancer. He talks about “turf wars” that prevented him from pursuing some topics. He explains that he began looking at benign diseases (fibroids, endometriosis) to consider how these might be connected to cancer, as they are over-present in women treated at MD Anderson.
He next talks about his studies of the early effects of steroid on cancer, focusing in particular on DES (diethylstilbestrol). He talks about creating the first culture of an immature mammary gland cell line with a functioning estrogen receptor. He explains mechanisms of cell membranes and indicates that, at the time, researchers were not focusing on the mechanisms of normal tissues. He next outlines the treatments that came from his discoveries.
Chapter 07 (The Researcher)
Research on Cancer in Diversity Populations (listen/read)
Dr. Jones outlines several studies he has conducted on cancer patients from different ethic/racial groups.
He begins with the Tri-Ethnic study conducted in partnership with the Kellogg’s Company. He talks about setting up the partnership then talks about the Healthy Friends initiative that focused on screening Hispanic women for cancer and his involvement in trials in South American focused on secondary and tertiary prevention of breast cancer via diet. He showed that intervention with diet had the same effect as treatment with Tamoxifen. Dr. Jones then returns to the Tri-Ethnic Study and explains nuances in the results: the media reported that the results showed no influence of diet on cancer rates, but he explains how this was an extreme oversimplification and, in fact, they discovered very positive results.
Chapter 08 (Building the Institution)
Initiatives to Foreground Minority Populations and Diversity (listen/read)
Dr. Jones reviews several of the initiatives he took on to bring minority populations into the conversation about cancer at MD Anderson.
He first talks about the Center for Minority Research and Health, which created a holistic approach to doing research.
Next he talks about starting the Biennial Symposium Series on ‘Minorities, the Medically Underserved and Cancer’ (begun in 1987). He explains that the Biennial figured into a plan to change how MD Anderson addressed minority health issues.
Dr. Jones then mentions establishing the National Minority Cancer Awareness Week: he explains why this was needed.
Dr. Jones tells the history of how the Biennial was established, beginning in 1985 when the NCI began looking at cancer disparities. He talks about the challenges securing funding, noting MD Anderson’s lack of support for this initiative and for him.
Chapter 09 (Diversity Issues)
A Stressful Relationship with MD Anderson Administration (listen/read)
Dr. Jones sketches many tensions in his relationship with MD Anderson’s administration. He mentions a Houston Chronicle article that stated “Lovell Jones was a boat-rocker and a malcontent.”
Dr. Jones explains why he was determined to stay at the institution, building on his solid research recorno one could accuse him of focusing on minority issues and discrimination because he couldn’t make it as a researcher.
Dr. Jones mentions Dr. Fred Conrad’s murder at MD Anderson. Dr. Jones recalls that in the early eighties he took safety precautions and his staff feared for his life. He talks about his attitude toward any danger, noting that his connections with powerful people in the field helped protect him.
Chapter 10 (Personal Background)
Early Experiences with Race and Civil Rights Instill a Commitment to Equity (listen/read)
Dr. Jones talks developing his commitment to work for equity.
He describes the unusual features of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was raised. This community was isolated and unusually integrated, characteristics that gave him a false sense of the country’s integration. He was never told that he couldn’t succeed. Dr. Jones then tells a story of disobeying his grandmother, who had told him never to take the bus downtown. He recalls sitting in the front of the bus only to be pulled to a seat in the back. Next he talks about how South University (a Black college) has a school on the campus of the laboratory school that Dr. Jones attended at the time. He was “adopted” by some college students and through them was introduced to civil rights activities. He then had the opportunity to attend the Robert E. Lee High School that was being integrated. He recalls being shot at and attacked during this period. Nevertheless, he explains, when he enters a room he never sees race. At the end of this chapter Dr. Jones explains why his mother threw him out of the house when he was thirteen.
Chapter 11 (An Institutional Unit)
The Intercultural Council; the Biennial Symposium, The Center for Research on Minority Health (listen/read)
Dr. Jones begins with stories to demonstrate the positive impact of the Biennial and how it advanced awareness of the health disparities movement.
Next, he tells how he met with Arlan Specter (Senator, Pennsylvania) and eventually convinced him to appropriate money for a study that showed the lack of focus on health disparities, a precursor to the creation of a new NIH institute, the Office on Research on Minority Health.
Dr. Jones next tells the story of forming the Center for Research on Minority Health. He describes how the Center was set up and positioned within MD Anderson. He explains its mission and initiatives directed at closing the gap in health disparities through science and education.
Dr. Jones explains difficulties in sustaining his connection to the Department of Health Disparities Research after his retirement.
Interview Session Three: 30 January 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 12 (Diversity Issues)
Race at MD Anderson: Slow to Make Real Changes for Minorities (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Jones provides a portrait of MD Anderson’s approach to race and diversity during his tenure.
Dr. Jones explains how race became a focus for him then shares his view of racism in America and racial inequality in Houston. He recalls segregation at MD Anderson still had separate eating areas for blacks and whites and observes that when he arrived, there was still a “psychological separation” between the races. He describes a conversation with Dr. Ronald DePinho about race. He notes resistance in leadership at MD Anderson and the Texas Medical Center to seeing race as an issue. He notes that there is “visible diversity” at lower levels of the institution but not in top leadership.
Dr. Jones makes a comparison with the situation for women at MD Anderson, a situation that leadership addressed in ways that changed the climate. He observes that this has never been done for minorities at MD Anderson.
Chapter 13 (Overview)
MD Anderson Leaders and Diversity (listen/read)
Dr. Jones evaluates MD Anderson and discusses the ability of key leaders to recognize race as an issue within the institution.
He notes that Dr. Ronald DePinho, the fourth full-time president of MD Anderson, can empathize with, but not fully relate to the experience of African-Americans.
He explains how important it is to make individuals aware of their biases without putting them on the defensive.
He talks about Fred Levine, president of UT Medical Branch in Galveston, then compares Dr. Charles LeMaistre [Oral History Interview] and Dr. John Mendelsohn [Oral History Interview]. He talks about Dr. Emil J Freireich [Oral History Interview], Dr. Waun Ki Hong [Oral History Interview], Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, and Dr. Bernard Levin [Oral History Interview].
Chapter 14 (Diversity Issues)
The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer: Developing Grassroots Action for Health Equity (listen/read)
Here Dr. Jones tells the story of The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer. He defines “health disparities and health equity” (using the World Health Organization’s definition).
He then tells the story of helping to start the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer after the publication of a report on minority cancer. He explains the scope of the Initiative’s activities (and notes MD Anderson’s lack of support and criticisms).
Dr. Jones tells anecdotes about his stressful relationship with MD Anderson that made him consider leaving Houston.
Chapter 15 (Diversity Issues)
Minority Experiences in Healthcare: The Origins of Health Inequity (listen/read)
Dr. Jones begins by saying that it is important to see health issues from a patient’s perspective. He describes how gaps between patients and healthcare systems develop. He gives an example of how African-American patients are inappropriately labeled “difficult” and so they are excluded from clinical trials.
Dr. Jones next recounts a story about the NCI and bias. This leads to a discussion of hoe individuals respond to the information that bias exists. Dr. Jones emphasizes that he uses the term “bias” instead of “racist.” He notes that there is little bias in dealing with pediatric cancer, but once children turn sixteen, bias begins to be evident in their treatment.
Chapter 16 (Personal Background)
Evolution of Thinking About Race and Inequity (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Jones talks about his upbringing and the evolution of his thoughts about race. He talks about his “sheltered” upbringing and fluid experience of race in a community where blue-eyed, blond classmates were racially black and he himself was often identified as white. Dr. Jones notes aspects of Louisiana history that helped support this experience and taught him to be cautious about assumptions he made about race and how he interacted with others. Dr. Jones explains that he considers himself and optimist and a realist about race issues in this country. He compares his style with that of Harold Freeman, MD, a prominent African-American physician and friend.
Chapter 17 (Obstacles, Challenges, Barriers)
Staying at an Institution Because They Want You To Leave (listen/read)
Dr. Jones first talks about the creation of C-Change, a “white version” of the InterCultural Council (of which he was a member) and a forum for a national dialogue on cancer, arising from the 1998 March on Washington for Cancer.
Next Dr. Jones notes that he stayed at MD Anderson because individuals at the institution wanted him to leave. He finally decided to leave when his resources were increasingly being turned off. He also notes Dr. Raphael Pollock’s comment that “you can say more by leaving than by staying.” Dr. Jones notes that nothing was being done to retain him at MD Anderson. Dr. Jones talks about his attempts to find post-retirement connections, given his reputation as an agitator. He notes that he has just received an official appointment letter from Texas A and M at Corpus Christi.
Interview Session Four: 1 May 2015 (listen/read)
Interview identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 18 (Beyond the Institution)
The Health Disparities Education, Research and Training Consortium and Program (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Jones discusses the creation of the Health Disparities Education, Research, and Training Program in 2002. He gives context, traces reasons for speedy implementation and covers political dimensions of this process.
He describes how the goals of the course, how it worked, and various presenters. He emphasizes that the overall goal of the course is to change how people think about health, so they include economics, housing and wealth distribution in their understanding of what has an impact on health. He then talks about the impact of the first year’s success, resulting in forty institutions now involved. He explains why MD Anderson pulled out of the project.
Chapter 19 (Beyond the Institution)
Creating the SECURE Project (listen/read)
Dr. Jones talks about the SECURE project begun in 2010 to address community needs for healthcare support in regional emergency situations. He explains that it grew out needs that became evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Jones invited many institutions to participate, including Meharry Medical College. He offers some context, explaining how the Flexner Report reduced the number of African-American medical schools, and Meharry was able to survive the closures. He explains why it was important that Meharry be represented in the SECURE project. He explains the projects developed, including the Texas Partnership for Addressing Health Disparities, and notes that now that he is retired, the SECURE consortium will be housed at Texas A & M University, Corpus Christi.
Chapter 20 (Beyond the Institution)
The Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research (listen/read)
Dr. Jones explains his work with the Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research (CHEER). He talks about meeting Dr. Height in 1992. He then discusses approaching Congress in 1997 for funds to start a research center --the Center for Research on Minority Health (CFRMH). Dr. Jones approached Dr. Height about renaming the center in her honor and explains the criticisms Dr. Height has of MD Anderson, leading her to decline. He then talks about how he resumed this discussion with relevant parties after DR. Height’s death, including making a “passionate plea” to family members at Dr. Height’s funeral. Dr. Jones explains the process whereby the family first agreed, but then withdrew the name after a few years. He notes that, at this time, the Height Center is “no longer functional.” Dr. Jones notes that MD Anderson is more interested in the discovery of new knowledge rather than its delivery to patients.
Chapter 21 (Beyond the Institution)
Obstacles to Improving Healthcare in Texas (listen/read)
Dr. Jones reflects on the poor healthcare in Texas and on factors that prevent improvement. He discusses Leonard Zwelling, MD, who writes a controversial blog about cancer issues and MD Anderson and their points of agreement expressed in a blog post. Dr. Jones talks about the negative reaction that followed.
After talking about a documentary about former Texas governor, Ann Richards, Dr. Jones notes the power of the media in creating a picture of leaders at the city and state level. He goes on to affirm that “No one talks about how Texas has one of the worst health situations.” He explains the factors leading to this situation. Next, Dr. Jones explains how individuals are able to protect themselves from the reality of the healthcare situation by creating “bubbles” around themselves.
Chapter 22 (Critical Evaluation)
Denied Privileges as an Emeritus Professor; MD Anderson’s Administrative Structure (listen/read)
Dr. Jones talks about MD Anderson’s treatment of him after retirement.
He begins by noting that he has been talking the University of Texas System about the treatment of emeritus professions and has been able to acquire statistics about the numbers of minority professors and the privileges extended to them. He notes that unlike the other institutions in the University of Texas System, MD Anderson has not formal process for assigning privileges. He speculates on why MD Anderson has this procedure, providing context by explaining the history of term tenure. He goes on to describe governance at MD Anderson: a system with “no checks and balances,” though prior to the current administration there was an “air of checks and balances.” He discusses the current controversy over faculty members being denied tenure by Dr. Ronald DePinho, despite unanimous tenure committee votes. He then returns to a discussion of his own emeritus status.
Chapter 23 (Post-Retirement Activities)
Writing, Teaching, and A Legacy Left (listen/read)
Dr. Jones talks about post-retirement projects not addressed in earlier chapters; working on a Texas A & M University grant for $21 million to educate STEM scientists; stabilizing the InterCultural Council and the Heath Disparities Education, Research, and Training (HDEART) Consortium. He lists venues for his writing and summarizes the points he makes in them. He notes his work with Louisiana State University and other institutions to support minority students and create a pipeline of people interested in health disparities.
Next Dr. Jones talks about the demographic shift in the United States with regards to economics and education and explains how this has an impact on healthcare. He gives an overview of wealth distribution in the United States, noting that a large percentage of the have-nots are white Americans.
At the end of the interview, Dr. Jones says that he would like to be remembered as a person who tried to make a difference and for his impact on education. The talks about students he remembers and the effect he was able to have on the direction of their careers. He recalls his mentor, Howard Bern. He regrets that MD Anderson did not offer him a true academic home to engrain change in next generations.
This interview with molecular endocrinologist Dr. Lovell Jones (b. 12 January 1949, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) takes place over four sessions in 2013/2014 (approximate total duration, 7 hours 30 minutes). Dr. Jones came to MD Anderson in 1980 to join the faculty of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. He retired in 2013 and holds the title of Professor Emeritus in the Department of Health Disparities Research, which is part of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. The sessions take place in the Historical Resources Center Reading Room of the Research Medical Library on the 21st Floor of Pickens Tower on the Main Campus of MD Anderson. Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer.
Dr. Jones received his Bachelors of Science in 1972 from California State University at Hayward. He went to graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving his Ph.D. in Zoology in 1977. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Reproductive Endocrinology Center at the University of California in San Francisco from 1977 to 1980. Dr. Jones was recruited to the Department of Gynecology with a joint appointment in the Department of Biochemistry to bring estrogen research to MD Anderson. He helped launch the institution’s first initiatives that brought awareness of unequal treatment of diversity faculty. He has always believed that “discovery” is incomplete until its delivery to patients is assured. Throughout his career, Dr. Jones has been a force at MD Anderson and on the national stage for developing an understanding of “health equity” and for developing minority health initiatives such as the Biennial Symposium Series on ‘Minorities, the Medically Underserved and Cancer’ (’88), the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer (’95), the Inter-cultural Cancer Council, and the Health Disparities Education Awareness Research and Training Consortium ’02).
In this interview, Dr. Jones discusses the evolution of his research on the roles of natural and synthetic estrogens in uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancer and his development of combination therapies for ovarian cancer. He also describes the many initiatives he has developed in the areas of health inequity (health disparity) and minority health needs, examining the necessity for a broad view of health that includes economic and social parameters. He explores a driving value in his research life: the importance of linking discovery to delivery of care. As an African-American driven to address inequity, he speaks candidly about the way MD Anderson does and does not fully deal with diversity in its faculty, staff and patients (often offering examples from his own experience). Dr. Jones also offers insight into how to change institution culture and the perspectives of leaders whose decisions can be influenced by biases of which they are unaware.
Dr. Jones was interviewed in August of 2012 for the HistoryMakers African-American Video Oral History Collection.