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They were pioneers in the true sense of the word – blazing a trail for new study of a medical menace and quickly translating what they learned into patient care. When the National Cancer Act was signed in December of 1971, under Dr. Owens’ leadership, this small group of gifted and dedicated physicians was poised to take action. Their mission was to bring a comprehensive cancer center to Baltimore. They faced tremendous opposition. It was a unique principle – a hospital build around treatment and research of this group of diseases known as cancer. The medical community was not ready for this change of philosophy. But Dr. Owens believed that this was just the type of atmosphere that would be needed to successfully treat cancer.
“Cancer is a challenging scientific and social problem of great magnitude,” he argued. “The inevitability of cancer hangs over much of society. Research cures cancer; science will show us the way to control these diseases. Addressing a major social problem, I would say, is a quite proper pursuit for any university.” Despite what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, his conviction gained approval for a comprehensive cancer center at Johns Hopkins.
When the Center building opened in April 1977, Dr. Owens brought together a diverse group of specialists working in collaboration with the dual goal of developing better treatments for cancer and gaining an understanding of its causes.
He consistently pushed the limits – always willing to explore something new or untried. It was this cutting-edge philosophy that quickly earned the Oncology Center (as it was called at the time) its lasting reputation as one of the finest university-based cancer centers in the world. The Oncology Center was a frontrunner in all aspects of cancer treatment and research, attracting patients, as well as scientists, from all over the world.
Dr. Owens created an atmosphere where new ideas could flourish. Young investigators were given the freedom to explore novel approaches, many of which developed into the Center’s greatest accomplishments. The Center was firmly placed on the frontier, developing the treatments that are commonly used today.
It was this widely-acclaimed success in making the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center a national model that earned Dr. Owens an appointment as President of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1986. However, it was his undying dedication and commitment to the Center and its quest to unravel the mysteries of cancer that led him to resign the presidency and return to the helm of the Oncology Center.
Respected as a world leader in oncology, Dr. Owens has given the world findings that represent some of the most in-depth knowledge about cancer and its causes and introduced the most innovative therapies. This reputation for excellence has earned him appointments as the President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, The National Coalition for Cancer Research, the American Association of Cancer Institutes and visiting professorships at the country’s best medical institutions. When the Governor of Maryland established a consortium to address the high cancer rates in Maryland, it was Dr. Owens he called upon to head it.
Under his leadership, the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center continued to leave its mark on medical history.
(-Written to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Center in 1992 and to celebrate the contributions of Dr. Albert H. Owens, Jr., founder of the Center and a leader of the nation’s campaign against cancer.)