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Reviewed by:
  • Richard E. Wainerdi and the Texas Medical Center by William Henry Kellar
  • Heather Green Wooten
Richard E. Wainerdi and the Texas Medical Center. By William Henry Kellar. ( College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017. Pp. 256. Photographs, notes, index.)

The Texas Medical Center is home to a plethora of non-profit institutions, including the internationally acclaimed M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, three medical schools, and numerous hospitals and research institutes. With over 106,000 employees, the center is "a sprawling city of health" (2), dedicated to medical education, cutting-edge research, and patient care, all world-class. For more than seven decades, it has benefited from distinguished leaders; perhaps none left a more profound imprint than Richard E. Wainerdi, who, from 1984 to 2012, served the longest tenure as president and CEO. In comparison with other luminaries of Houston's past, however, his name attracts little recognition. William H. Kellar seeks to change that with this extensively researched and compelling biography.

A prolific author, Kellar is the leading authority on the history of the Texas Medical Center. His Enduring Legacy: The M. D. Anderson Foundation and the Texas Medical Center (Texas A&M University Press, 2014) and Frederick Elliott's The Birth of the Texas Medical Center (Texas A&M University Press, 2004), which Kellar edited, chronicle the creation and development of the medical complex into a dynamic city of health and healing. Kellar adds another dimension in this latest work. Through a skillful recounting of Dr. Wainerdi's life, the author tells the unique story of how this nuclear engineer and research scientist effectively shepherded the Texas Medical Center through periods of historic growth and devastating crises.

Grounded in primary sources, including numerous oral histories and personal papers, Kellar's narrative captures the spirit and intellectual dynamism of both an individual and an era. The book is organized into ten chapters, each rich in content yet concise in scope. Readers will appreciate Wainerdi's experiences as a teenage usher at Radio City Music Hall during the 1940s; his training at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, after a stint in the U.S. Air Force; and his involvement with the Atoms for Peace program spearheaded by the Eisenhower administration. As an academic administrator, Wainerdi led the effort to establish the Nuclear Reactor Center at Texas A&M College [End Page 237] (now University), placing the institution in the vanguard of atomic-age science during the 1960s. The five chapters devoted to Wainerdi's twenty-eight years as Texas Medical Center president are full of characters and events that will resonate with historians and lay readers alike. These include President George H. W. Bush; Houston Chronicle publisher RichardJ. V. Johnson; Dr. Denton Cooley; the purchase and demolition of the legendary Shamrock Hilton Hotel; and the devastating effects wrought by tropical storm Allison, considered the "single worst event in history of the TMC" (148). Most importantly, Kellar demonstrates the essence of Wainerdi's unique brand of leadership at a pivotal juncture in the center's history. When he assumed office in 1984, Wainerdi confronted a tired campus, replete with crumbling infrastructure, and a non-collaborative culture grounded in vicious competition for resources among the many multifaceted institutions. With tireless dedication, a vigorous management style, and an engineer's vision of the possible, Wainerdi fostered a culture of inter-institutional collaboration that ensured the Texas Medical Center would remain "Houston's gift to the world" (184) for generations to come.

This book is a valuable addition to Texas medical historiography. While the detailed institutional content can feel heavy in places, it is essential for the overall context and understanding of the story. Kellar has created an outstanding resource for researchers and anyone interested in the history of Houston or Texas medicine.

Heather Green Wooten
University of Texas Medical Branch


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pp. 237-238
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