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People and Places

By RONALD R. PETERSON

PRESIDENT, JOHNS HOPKINS HEALTH SYSTEM

EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE

Date: 11/09/2017

People and Places

As I get ready to enter the brave new world of retirement, I’ve been reflecting on my 44 years with Johns Hopkins Medicine.

That’s one-third of this institution’s 128-year existence, beginning with the opening of The Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1889. During my four decades here, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know–and learn from–many of the greats of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Incredibly, a few of them even had direct links to the 19th century founders of the hospital and medical school. It’s remarkable to think I’ve actually been a part of this extraordinary human chain.

Walking around the East Baltimore campus, and Johns Hopkins Bayview, too, I see places that now are named for people I knew. Those people weren’t auditoriums, buildings or corridors to me. They were individuals I admired. Their contributions to Johns Hopkins Medicine made it great long before I arrived and while I’ve been here, and those contributions will endure long after I depart.

I’ve attended innumerable events in the Thomas B. Turner Auditorium–celebrating our Nobel Prize winners, listening to the inspiring speakers at our annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, and participating in many similar occasions.

Thomas Turner–known to everyone as “Tommy”–was dean of the school of medicine from 1957 until 1968. He first arrived here in 1927 as a fellow. He knew two of the founding four physicians of Johns Hopkins Medicine: William Welch, the first dean of the school of medicine, who died in 1934; and Howard Kelly, the first professor of gynecology, who died in 1943. When you shook Tommy’s hand, you were connecting yourself directly with the men in John Singer Sargent’s iconic painting, "The Four Doctors."

Tommy Turner lived to be 100, dying in 2002. Dean/CEO Edward Miller and I occasionally visited his Bolton Hill home and sipped sherry with him. We recognized it was a special opportunity to benefit from what Ed called Tommy’s “great wisdom and his knowledge and love of Johns Hopkins.”

I was lucky to get to know Albert Owens, the soft-spoken, pioneering oncologist who was also a predecessor of mine as president of the hospital—and for whom the auditorium is named in one of our cancer research buildings. I also knew the towering intellectual Vernon Mountcastle, the father of neuroscience, for whom an auditorium is named in the preclinical teaching building.

Additionally, the year I arrived here I met the men for whom the Nelson/Harvey buildings are named: Russell Nelson, a dedicated and impressive president of the hospital from 1952 to 1972; and A. McGehee (Mac) Harvey, a mentor revered by generations of Hopkins medical students, and director of the Department of Medicine and physician-in-chief of the hospital from 1946 to 1973.

Plenty of memories are evoked whenever I’m in the Richard Starr Ross Research Building, which commemorates the school of medicine’s exemplary, forward-looking dean from 1975 to 1990; and the Robert Heyssel Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center (more commonly called simply “JHOC”). It is named for my key mentor, the president of the hospital and health system from 1972 to 1992.

My office is in the Edward D. Miller Research Building, named for my extraordinary colleague and good friend, the first dean/CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, with whom I collaborated for 16 years to make Johns Hopkins Medicine a reality and bring it into the 21st century.

Walking from the Billings Administrative Building to the Wilmer Eye Institute or to the Weinberg or Sheik Zayed buildings, I pass through the Edward Halle Corridor. It’s named for another important mentor of mine. Ed was Bob Heyssel’s senior vice president for administration.

Ed Halle taught me a lot about the people dimension of our business—relationship building. He was a consummate relationship builder and impressed upon me the importance of people, because I was not a natural at that. I had to work at it. I was a bit more introspective. But I think, over time, I became quite good at that as well.

Ed Halle also paved the way for one of my greatest opportunities. He was Hopkins’ “behind the scenes” negotiator during the lengthy discussions with the city over assuming administrative control of the old Baltimore City Hospitals–now Hopkins Bayview–in 1982. That led to my becoming head administrator of the hospital and then its president two years later, when it was acquired by Johns Hopkins.

I hope that during my time with Johns Hopkins Medicine, I’ve managed to burnish the legacies left by all of these exceptional individuals.