As a physician, LeMaistre was hesitant about leaving his medical duties to follow an administrative path. But one thing led to another, and with some convincing, in 1971 he became the only physician to ever serve as chancellor of the University of Texas System.
“Mickey is a very attractive administrative type because he has all the personality and the intellect,” said Art Dilley, former executive secretary of the UT System Board of Regents. “And he's one of the most articulate guys that I have ever encountered. When Mickey speaks, people listen.”
That included what LeMaistre had to say when he emphasized the need for cancer prevention while at M.D. Anderson.
“We had no one looking at that, except for maybe a little research on diet,” Mendelsohn said.
LeMaistre developed a cancer prevention division that focused on epidemiology, behavioral sciences and working with patients who had a family history of cancer. He also played a major role in expanding M.D. Anderson beyond Houston, bringing it to the community rather than requiring patients to come to the cancer center, Stuyck said. M.D. Anderson operates a network of regional care centers and affiliate cancer hospitals, and has collaborative relationships with institutions worldwide.
It was LeMaistre's concern for the patient—likely because of his years as a practicing physician, or simply as a characteristic of being the Southern gentleman that friends and colleagues often reference—that has marked his long career.
“He is a well-tuned compass of understanding and appreciating not only how to do well, but how to do good and how to make the right decisions,” said David Bachrach, whom LeMaistre recruited to be executive vice president for administration and finance at M.D. Anderson.
According to Bachrach, one of the best stories illustrating LeMaistre's character happened one day when the leadership team at M.D. Anderson was discussing its concerns about another institution applying for a national cancer-institute designation and the potential for competition in funding.
“Mickey, in his inimitable way, said, 'Are you folks done talking about this?' ” Bachrach said. “ 'Because I want to clarify something. The enemy isn't the institution. The enemy is cancer, and we will welcome anyone who is working for a cure to cancer.' ”
At 91, LeMaistre is still actively pursuing just that. Though he is officially retired from his professional life, he continues to play a role in the fight against cancer.
“When I retired from M.D. Anderson in 1996, one of my grandsons said to me, 'Grandfather, you have had so many jobs. You can't seem to hold one,' ” LeMaistre said.
Now, he's added another unofficial job to his long resume—working with his wife, Andi, and others to petition the president, Congress and HHS to protest high cancer-drug prices, so patients will have access to affordable and potentially lifesaving medications.
He has also written a book to be published about the history of the surgeon general's committee.
How does he continue to stay so active after all these years? “I learned to get four hours of sleep while in medical school,” he said. “I've never really broken that.”