1873 - 1939
Frugality and thrift, industry and integrity - these were the most prominent characteristics of Monroe Dunaway Anderson. To these may be added shrewdness and acquisitiveness, which made him wealthy beyond most men of his time. He was also friendly, humble, kind, humorous and a little bashful.
Monroe Anderson was born on June 29, 1873 in Jackson, Tennessee, a small city 70 miles northeast of Memphis. His father was the first president of Jackson's First National Bank, which he helped organize. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. William Monroe Dunaway, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister. His Scottish Presbyterian ancestors pretty well endowed him and his siblings with frugality and thrift; indeed, these qualities prevailed widely in a South devastated economically as well as physically by the recently ended Civil War.
Monroe attended Jackson's public schools and Southwestern Baptist University at Memphis before going to work in Jackson's other bank, the Peoples' National, where he learned the banking business thoroughly. In 1904, his older brother Frank and Frank's brother-in-law, Will Clayton, decided to establish a partnership to engage in buying and selling cotton. They needed more capital and invited Monroe to become a partner. Thus was established Anderson, Clayton & Co., with its principal office in Oklahoma City, a new city in Oklahoma Territory where cotton grew bountifully. In 1905, Ben Clayton, Will's younger brother, was made a partner, raising the partnership to four members - two Andersons and two Claytons.
In Jackson, Monroe continued his banking career until 1907, when he moved to Houston to give his company access to larger banks and, eventually, to deep water shipping on completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914. With full-time devotion to partnership affairs, he became the chief financial officer and later, following incorporation, he was named treasurer. For a time, he also served as president of Anderson, Clayton & Co. The company continued to prosper, and Monroe became wealthy through a combination of good management, good fortune, and the capable efforts of himself and his energetic associates. Anderson, Clayton & Co. came to be the world's largest merchant of the world's most popular commodity; for nearly a century, it was known as "King Cotton."
In the mid-thirties, MD Anderson and Will Clayton owned more than half the corporation's stocks. The death of either, if resulting in a large estate tax, might have made it necessary to liquidate the company. Partly for this reason, in 1936, MD Anderson created the charitable foundation which bears his name and funded it with about $300,000. This foundation was destined to receive $19,000,000 more after Monroe's death in 1939.
The charter of the MD Anderson Foundation did not specify precisely how its money should be used, but the trustees leaned strongly in the direction of health care. Soon after taking possession of the estate from its executors, the trustees noted that the 1941 Texas Legislature had authorized the University of Texas to establish a hospital for cancer research and treatment somewhere in the state. No location was specified, but $500,000 was appropriated for the purpose. The Anderson Foundation agreed to match this sum if the hospital would be built in Houston and named for its benefactor. A site was offered in the new Texas Medical Center, another creature of the Anderson Foundation.
The hospital began its operation in temporary quarters on the James A. Baker estate at 2310 Baldwin Street in downtown Houston during World War II, under the acting president, Dr. E. W. Bertner. The MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando rightly regards the Baker home and extensive grounds as its place of birth. Several war-surplus buildings were added in the late 1940s and 46 patients were being treated in those primitive quarters when the hospital moved to its present site in March 1954. The first permanent building, clothed in pink marble, is now the core of a complex of more modern buildings which surround it. Those buildings are sheathed in concrete and glass; the Georgia quarry was depleted of pink marble before the demands of Anderson Hospital ran out.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando is deeply indebted to the people who worked there. Dr. Bertner deserves special thanks for conceiving of a great medical center for Houston and serving as first president of the Texas Medical Center, as well as acting director of the cancer center during the organizational years, 1942-1945. In 1946, the first full-time president, Randolph Lee Clark, M.D., took firm charge of the fledgling institution and lifted it to great heights in terms of successful operation and worldwide recognition. He served 32 years until retirement in 1978 and was replaced by Charles A. LeMaistre, M.D., who continued the great work begun by Dr. Clark. Dr. LeMaistre's retirement in 1996 after 18 years brought in the third full-time president, John Mendelsohn, M.D., who is expected in every way to live up to the standards of excellence exhibited by his predecessors. It may be truthfully said that the Anderson Hospital is as much a monument to Lee Clark and his successors, and to the hundreds of physicians, scientists, nurses and others who dedicated themselves to this splendid institution, as it is to the memory of the man whose name it bears.
While he died unmarried and childless, MD Anderson was the "father" not only to the Texas Medical Center and the hospital which bears his name, but also to libraries, auditoriums, college buildings and even a planetarium in his native Jackson. If he were to return to Earth and look about, he would be amazed and probably a little amused at the prominence his name has attained throughout the civilized world.
Thomas D. Anderson
The author is Thomas D. Anderson, Monroe Anderson's nephew and a devoted friend of the institution that bears his uncle's name. He has been a member of the MD Anderson Board of Visitors since 1962 and chaired the Board from 1965-1974.