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No finer mind, no greater heart
UT Houston Medical School pays tribute to a leader known for his modesty
Members of the M.D. Anderson Foundation Board joined leaders of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston on April 18, to dedicate John H. Freeman Hall and to honor one of the founders of the Texas Medical Center.
John Henry Freeman (1886-1980), the son of a shop foreman for the Southern Pacific Railroad, grew up in Houston's Fifth Ward and put himself through the University of Chicago law school before returning to his hometown and changing it forever through his vision and philanthropy.
A partner in the firm now known as Fulbright and Jaworski, Freeman served as an advisor to Monroe D. Anderson. Anderson had an immense fortune to bequeath-$19 million, equivalent to more than $271 million today-and was thinking about the legacy he might leave. Freeman proposed that Anderson create a private foundation, an innovative concept for its time. The papers establishing the foundation, whose mission was both to improve working conditions and to build and support hospitals and homes for care of the sick, were signed on July 9, 1936, three years before Anderson died.
Freeman and his law firm partner and the other original board member of the M.D. Anderson Foundation, William B. Bates, saw the concept through to completion. On April 20, 1944, the M.D. Anderson Foundation purchased from the City of Houston 134 acres of land-used for hunting at the time-adjacent to Hermann Hospital, and the Texas Medical Center was born. As an individual and in his role as a trustee of the M.D. Anderson Foundation, Freeman continued to support institutions of the Medical Center throughout his life, including The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, which gratefully counts the M.D. Anderson Foundation among its longest standing and most generous contributors.
UT Houston President James T. Willerson, M.D., and Margaret C. McNeese, M.D., associate dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and daughter of former M.D. Anderson Foundation Board member and former chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, the late A. G. McNeese, Jr., led the series of tributes to Freeman.
A man known for his modesty, integrity, dedication to young people, brilliance, and commitment to Houston's future, Freeman was honored by having the Medical School's first new structure, the John Freeman Building, completed in 1972, named for him. Heavily damaged by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, it was razed to make room for the Research Replacement and Expansion Facility, of which the new Freeman Hall is a part. The 200,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility provides space for research in stem cells and regenerative medicine; infectious diseases; cell signaling/membrane biology; and neurosciences.
Foundation trustees attending the dedication ceremony and luncheon, held two days before the Texas Medical Center's 64th anniversary, included Uriel Dutton, Gibson Gayle, Charles Hall, and Jack Trotter. Taking turns at the microphone to reminisce about Freeman were Attorney Charles Saunders; Kelsey-Seybold Clinic Co-founder Mavis Kelsey; Joanie Jaworski Moncrief, daughter of Leon Jaworski; M.D. Anderson Foundation President Gibson Gayle; and McNeese, all of whom recounted stories of Freeman's kindness and integrity. "There was no finer mind, no greater heart," Saunders said.
Gayle remembered the framed motto that rested on the credenza in Freeman's office: "There is no limit to what a man can do if he doesn't care who gets the credit." President Willerson also acknowledged Freeman's lack of concern with getting recognition, but added, "We like to give credit where credit is due," before unveiling a portrait of Freeman and a plaque.
By Cynthia J. Johnson, Institutional Advancement