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Promise and Progress - Reflections of Martin D. Abeloff

Special Commemorative Issue: The Abeloff Era - Building Upon a Tradition of Excellence

Reflections of Martin D. Abeloff

Date: April 1, 2007

Read on to learn what the colleagues, patients and friends of Martin D. Abeloff have to say about the man who has led The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center for the past 15 years.

Very few people have done more to reach out to neighbors and advance our healing sciences than Dr. Martin Abeloff. Over the years, he has united some of the greatest minds in the world to face our challenges, unlock our potential, and lead in the fight against cancer. With creativity and strong leadership, Dr. Abeloff has brought hope and progress not only to our communities in Maryland, but to our global community.

Martin O’Malley Governor of Maryland        

The era of Abeloff leadership of our Cancer Center has been one of extraordinary growth in terms of people, buildings, but most importantly, contributions to patient care and translational and basic research-all leading toward tremendous beneficial changes in the management of cancers of all types. The boundless energy Marty has exerted in helping bring this about cannot be overstated: ever examining his own style and growth as a leader, and ever refining whatever he needed to do to bring excellence to all components of the job.           

He has synthesized all he was expert in, upon arriving as the leader, with continued education about areas less well known, to enrich virtually every clinical and laboratory activity ongoing during his watch. This combination of qualities, perhaps best summarized as wisdom, can be rare in leaders and resulted in the very best stewardship of a department and Cancer Center as complex as ours. The palpable results of his ability to engage the philanthropic community in the activities of the Center is present in the Center name and names of buildings, but perhaps most magically, in the creative translational efforts he has crafted for all of us that could never have been launched through any conventional funding mechanisms. Watching his caring for and nurturing of each project has been an education in and of itself.            

From a personal stance, I have been proud to be a colleague, senior advisor, and friend. This combination of relationships with Marty has not only been gratifying but led to much professional and personal growth for me. In the advisor position, Marty has always given me a chance to voice opinions and opened up dialogue whether we agreed or disagreed on key issues. What emerged was almost always a constructive position for which we could synthesize our activities to move things forward in the Center. In my research, nothing has meant more than to have him convey to me that a job was well done. In my personal life, again he has exhibited that rare ability to mesh what one is as an individual with what one’s professional life is all about.            

I will miss Marty as a leader. But the good news, for me and others, is that we do not have to miss him as a colleague. In his continued activities within the Center, whatever new vistas he may seek-and there will undoubtedly be many- we can take advantage of his proximity to learn and benefit from his spoken, sometimes unspoken, exhortations to reach for that something more, that something that can translate into excellence. I wish him every success in his next career and hope that I can participate in this new one, too.

Steve Baylin, M.D.

Virginia and D.K. Ludwig

Professor for Cancer Research

Professor of Oncology and Medicine

Director of Cancer Biology    

Marty has been a superlative leader in the cancer field and at Johns Hopkins for nearly 15 years. He has nurtured the cancer center at Johns Hopkins through enormous periods of growth and change and made it a truly world class comprehensive cancer center. He has done this with grace and a level of collegiality that has earned the respect and affection of everyone holding leadership positions in the field. In these and many, many other ways, he has been an outstanding representative of Johns Hopkins and the excellence for which it stands.

Edward J. Benz, Jr., M.D. President, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute  


Dr. Abeloff has been a visionary leader of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, overseeing its transition to spectacular clinical and research facilities and new and exciting research and treatment programs. He will leave big shoes to fill.

William R. Brody, M.D., PH.D.

President of the Johns Hopkins University  

Marty is a thoughtful leader, an active listener, a supportive mentor and a very kind human being. I will miss him.

Jean G. Ford, M.D.

Associate Professor,

Epidemiology and Oncology,

Director of the Baltimore City Cancer Plan,

Director of the Cancer Health Disparities Research Program  

As a long-term cancer survivor and leader of a national cancer patient advocacy organization, I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Abeloff for nearly 15 years in a variety of settings. These include, but are not limited to, his term as ASCO President, his participation in meetings of the Maryland State Council on Cancer Control, and numerous meetings and assemblies of cancer center directors and leaders within the cancer community. In each one of these encounters, and in broader discussions with Dr. Abeloff where serious questions regarding quality cancer research and regulatory policies were being debated, I had an opportunity to learn what leadership looks like when one is using informed and persuasive arguments to address complex issues. His style and demeanor were always considerate of others, but he did not shy away from a good debate when he felt strongly about the topic at hand. He is a strong and ardent advocate for quality cancer care and clinical research. I recall when, in the mid-1990’s, the Maryland State Insurance Commissioners were meeting to hear arguments pertaining to covering the routine patient care costs associated with cancer clinical trials. Dr. Abeloff was challenged to defend his position repeatedly in response to questioning that was sometimes aggressive and intimidating, but he did not bend from his arguments, which eventually were persuasive.            

Dr. Abeloff has never failed to hold my attention with his breadth of knowledge on a variety of subjects. But I think what has impressed me most about him is his depth of understanding and compassion for the human condition when someone is diagnosed with cancer. I cannot count the number of times over the last 15 years when I have sought his advice and counsel on any number of topics or asked for a referral for someone, and without hesitation or delay, he would get back to me wit ha selfless and knowledgeable response. Just recently, one of our young employees at NCCS who is being treated at the Kimmel Cancer Center for lung cancer, collapsed on his way into the clinic for his chemotherapy. His doctors and we were very concerned that this episode could have signaled a serious deterioration of his condition. With his family living far away, I e-mailed Dr. Abeloff and asked if he would make an inquiry of his status, which he did and reported back to me-putting us all at ease when we learned that the situation was not critical. What I did not know until sometime later is that Dr. Abeloff paid a personal visit to our young colleague-once again, going beyond what anyone would have expected.            

All of us at the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship congratulate Dr. Abeloff on his 15 years of outstanding leadership of the Kimmel Cancer Center, and on his stewardship of issues in the broader cancer community, from which all of us have benefited.

Ellen Stovall

President & CEO National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship  

Marty displayed that rare type of humble but brilliant leadership that the Hopkins cancer battle deserved. His accomplishments in terms of the extraordinary expansion of our clinical and research resources were only matched by his unwavering support of the troops doing the research and treating the patients. His leadership will be greatly missed.

Kenneth Kinzler, PH.D.

Professor of Oncology

Director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins  

Laboratory to Bedside

Throughout his productive career, Dr. Martin D. Abeloff has devoted his energies to one of the greatest challenges in medical science: moving promising therapies from the laboratory to the bedside. Remarkably, Dr. Abeloff accomplished this while serving simultaneously as a scientist, clinician, cancer center director, and distinguished leader in the cancer community. His service to the community was particularly notable during his tenure as chairman of the Board of Scientific Counselors to the Intramural Division of Clinical Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. It is an honor to salute Dr. Abeloff’s many outstanding achievements.

Andrew C. Von Eschenbach, M.D.

Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Former Director of the National Cancer Institute