Dr. Charles LeMaistre, an alumnus of The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences who played a key role in getting health warnings on cigarettes and who served as president of MD Anderson Center for nearly two decades, passed away Jan. 28. He was 92 years old.
LeMaistre, a native of Lockhart, Alabama, received his undergraduate degree from UA and completed his first two years of medical education at CCHS, which also serves a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1947.
He completed a residency and research fellowship in infectious diseases at New York Hospital and Cornell University, where he became a professor and conducted research on germ warfare defense as a member of the US Public Health Service Epidemic Intelligence Service. He began teaching at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1954 and later became chair of its Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health.
LeMaistre moved to teach at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Houston and served as medical director of Woodlawn Hospital’s Chest Division. During this time, he was named to the US Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, which produced the landmark 1964 report that first linked smoking to cancer and other health problems and led to warning labels on cigarette packages.
LeMaistre was named associate dean for Health Affairs at The University of Texas in Austin in 1965 and was soon promoted to vice chancellor and then chancellor. In 1978, he began his 18-year legacy as president of the MD Anderson Center in Houston, and during his tenure the center became one of the top outpatient cancer centers in the world.
“He was recognized as an outstanding physician, a gifted educator, a committed leader, a champion for cancer prevention and an all-around extraordinary human being,” says Dr. Ronald DePinho, current president of the MD Anderson Center. “His confidence and charisma helped build MD Anderson into the world’s most impactful cancer center.”
In addition to his research on cancer and the harmful effects of smoking, LeMaistre led the National Conference on Smoking OR Health in 1981, the International Summit on Smoking Control Leaders in 1985 and served as president of the American Cancer Society in 1987. The following year, the American Cancer Society presented LeMaistre with the organization’s highest honor, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor.