Born in the nascent Texas Medical Center in Houston in 1954, I grew up in the city of South Houston with mom, dad, and beloved younger brother Mick. I first became enthralled with biology in Mrs. Thomas’s 6th grade Life Sciences class. This initial spark was rekindled at South Houston High School where, as a freshman, I had the good luck to encounter two more wonderfully creative and motivating teachers, Arthur Harper (Biology) and Jack Barclay (English), both of whom taught me invaluable lessons in critical thinking that have lasted a lifetime. After one brief semester at the University of Houston as an English major (another lifelong passion – a gift from Jack Barclay), I dropped out of college to work as a security guard. At the Lunar Science Institute (now Lunar and Planetary Institute), adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center complex in Clear Lake, I worked the graveyard shift six nights a week (I figured if I was going to be a guard, might as well do it at an institution with some class). My boss at LSI, retired U.S. Army Gunnery Sergeant Guy Coleman, became another powerful influence in my life. I subsequently enrolled at San Jacinto College in Pasadena (Texas, not California) for summer school, intending to make up the semester I had missed and get back to English at UH in the autumn. But fate had other plans. Falling under the influence of two more inspirational professors, in this instance San Jac Biology professors Harrell Odom and John Locke, I ultimately completed my undergraduate education at Texas A&M University with the centennial class of 1976, earning a BS in Zoology. My most memorable, and totally beloved, professor from those years was the fearsome Dr. Jack Dobson, whose legendary course in Comparative Vertebrate Morphology struck fear in the hearts of several generations of A&M premed students.
Reflecting back on the experiences that informed my early education, the profound influence that teachers have upon their students, with the positive effects reverberating far into the future, is truly amazing. We all owe a debt to our teachers and mentors that we cannot repay to them directly, but we can pay it forward.
The summer after graduating from A&M, I went to work as a research technician in the neurochemistry laboratory of Dr. Richard C. Wiggins in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. With Dr. Wiggins’ encouragement and mentorship, I earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science (Neuroscience Program) from The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and served for one year on the faculty of The UT Medical School at Houston as Assistant Instructor of Neurobiology and Anatomy. A unique experience from this period was a two-week stint one summer as an extra in the John Travolta/Debra Winger movie Urban Cowboy. I was present during filming of all of the scenes shot at Gilley’s Night Club in Pasadena (understandably, any images of me dancing ended up on the cutting room floor before the movie was released).
After graduate school (and my brief career as an actor), I completed an M.D. degree at Baylor College of Medicine, also in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, where I had the privilege of learning from one of the great teachers of neuroanatomy and neuroscience, Robert Thalmann. The Baylor experience was followed by 5 years comprising internship, residency and fellowship at Duke, where I was extremely fortunate to have received Neuropathology training from two masters: F. Stephen Vogel and Peter C. Burger. Duke won 2 national basketball championships during my housestaff tenure there (although I take no personal credit for this).
After Duke, I returned to Texas and hometown Houston to join the faculty of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center as Assistant Professor of Pathology in 1992. The decision to take the job at MD Anderson was based largely on the opportunity MDACC afforded me to become an ultra-subspecialist, focusing exclusively on oncologic neuropathology, a privilege for which I am very grateful. There have been many wonderful scientific moments over the past 19 years, the best of which were joint triumphs shared with my colleagues, who are also my friends, such as the first application of the then newly emerging genomic approaches of transcriptome profiling and tissue microarray phenotyping to the investigation of brain tumor biology and molecular subclassification of diffuse gliomas with Wei Zhang in the 1990s; the early investigation of the regulatory role of REST/NRSF, a transcriptional repressor of neuronal differentiation genes, in medulloblastoma oncogenesis with Sadhan Majumder, and the first glioma modeling studies of controlled in vivo oncogene expression using the combined transgenic/somatic gene transfer RCAS/tva system with Eric Holland (now at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center). In the education arena, it has been my distinct pleasure to co-direct the annual Texas Medical Center Neuropathology Review course for the past 19 years with my good friend and colleague J. Clay Goodman (Baylor College of Medicine). And no scientific or educational endeavor has provided more satisfaction than the innumerable activities and interpersonal interactions that I have experienced with the USCAP family over the years.
But my biggest personal achievement, by far, was meeting and securing the love and enduring support of my wonderful wife, Tina, whose wondrous smile I carry with me to work every day. How very lucky I was to catch her eye.
I have been deeply honored to have served as your President. The past year has been one of exciting transition for the USCAP, as noted in my Message below, and the future looks very bright for our Academy.