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Honoring Abeloff
A fitting tribute heralds the end of an era, as the director of the Kimmel Cancer Center steps down

Martin Abeloff at the Kimmel Cancer Center’s 2007 faculty dinner. (Photo: Mike Ciesielski)

It was hardly surprising that at the Kimmel Cancer Center’s annual faculty dinner, held this year on May 3 in downtown Baltimore, Martin Abeloff was hailed for his monumental achievements.

After all, Abeloff, who directed the center for 15 years, grew the cancer center into a clinical and research organization with international clout, presided over the building of three separate cancer facilities and brought in the largest gift in Hopkins’ history ($150 million from Sidney Kimmel, center namesake).

But more than “Marty the director,” it was Marty the man who emerged in the heartfelt testimonials that poured forth. He was revealed as a humble man who never sought fame and whose sole purpose was to relieve suffering. A loving husband, father and grandfather. A devotee of art, music and literature, responsible for bringing 200 original works of art to the Weinberg Building.

Longtime colleague, researcher Stephen Baylin, urged guests to think of the evening as first and foremost a celebration. And yet, despite the raucous strains and irreverent lyrics of the homegrown band Wild Type, despite the engaging video tribute and dozens of good-humored remarks, it was still very much a bittersweet occasion, one that heralded the end of an era.

It was hard to believe, given the crowd of clinicians and investigators that filled the Tremont’s elegant banquet hall, that when Abeloff began a fellowship here in 1972, the oncology center had yet to be formed, and oncology itself was but a subspecialty of medicine, not yet a department. Abeloff, a 1966 School of Medicine graduate, had returned to Baltimore after residency training in Boston. He went on to join the junior faculty, head up medical oncology, and then direct the entire cancer center.

He became a foremost spokesman for cancer prevention, said University President Bill Brody, and later, an endowment in Abeloff’s name, which will support faculty who develop new approaches to prevention, was announced.

In his remarks, Abeloff lauded his three families: his parents who raised him in a small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania; his wife, Diane, whom he met in medical school when she was an Art as Applied to Medicine student, and his daughters and three grandchildren; and the entire Johns Hopkins family.

“I came here at age 19 to this incredible university with its outstanding intellectual environment, good people and a set of values that makes coming to work every day an absolute joy,” Abeloff said. “How lucky I’ve been.”

Anne Bennett Swingle

 

 

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