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Reviewed by:
  • Richard E. Wainerdi and the Texas Medical Center by William Henry Kellar
  • Don R. Byrnes
Richard E. Wainerdi and the Texas Medical Center. By William Henry Kellar. Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017. Pp. xxvi, 226. $35.00, ISBN 978-1-62349-574-9.)

This book is a dual biography—of one man and of Houston's Texas Medical Center (TMC). In the preface, William Henry Kellar indicates that the work will "trace the life journey of Richard E. Wainerdi from his childhood in 1930s New York City to president of the world's largest medical complex" (p. xvii). Kellar describes Wainerdi's "training as a professional engineer and how he applied his skills in a variety of positions, including professor, scientist, academic leader, corporate executive, and finally, president of the Texas Medical Center," as the key to the study (p. xvii).

Wainerdi graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in petroleum engineering. His first job was in Houston with Shell Oil Company, but he soon left to enter the air force during the Korean War. He was mustered out as the war concluded and entered Pennsylvania State University to pursue a [End Page 233] master's degree, and he was introduced to the emerging world of peaceful uses for atomic energy. He was invited to Texas A&M University to "'build a nuclear program'" (p. 32).

The appointment launched Wainerdi's career in higher education, and for twenty years he built Texas A&M's nuclear science center and played a leading role in creating the school of medicine at the university. After administrative changes, Wainerdi resigned from the university to return to the oil industry in 1977.

In the fall of 1984, at age fifty-five, he was named president of the Texas Medical Center, where he served for some twenty-five years. He said of his arrival, "'What stands out about Texas Medical Center at that time is that a lot of it was dirty, dark, and dangerous'" (p. 85). The role of president was a daunting one, with substantial responsibilities involving TMC's infrastructure but with no authority over the nonprofit institutions providing medical services there.

The land belonged to the TMC, and the TMC provided "steam and chilled water for heating and air conditioning" as well as centralized laundry services (p. 85). At the beginning of Wainerdi's tenure, there were thirty-one institutions at the TMC, some dating back to 1943; by 2012 there were fifty-three. The acquisition of additional land became necessary, and purchases included the Shamrock Hotel's twenty-five acres and the buildings on it. This acquisition created the South Main Campus of the Texas Medical Center. Other lands were incorporated into the TMC as the member institutions expanded.

Parking was an ongoing concern, and TMC eventually constructed buildings to address the issue. But, in his early years, Wainerdi faced "the antagonism between the institutions and the fact that some of them really did not feel like they were a part of the Texas Medical Center" (p. 97). His diplomatic skills were utilized as he began to work with the institutions' leaders to encourage them in joint ventures.

Kellar has used his own background as a historian in Houston to find the sources necessary for the development of the story. There were few secondary resources available, and he has relied heavily on oral histories of the leading characters. These are enumerated in chapter notes and in a list of the many interviews Kellar conducted. The index is not exhaustive. A person unfamiliar with the recent history of the Houston may need a roster to keep track of the players, but Kellar has succeeded in the task he undertook.

Don R. Byrnes
Houston Baptist University


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pp. 233-234
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