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Kevin J. Foyle, MBA, CFRE
Vice President
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McGovern book proceeds support UTHealth Medical School endowed student scholarship fund

Q&A with author Bryant Boutwell, DrPH

Published: April 09, 2014 by

To honor his long-time friend and colleague, UTHealth’s historian, Bryant Boutwell, DrPH, has penned John P. McGovern, MD: A Lifetime of Stories, a biography that captures the influential life of the man behind the name that adorns numerous buildings, scholarships, professorships and teaching awards throughout the Texas Medical Center. McGovern, the only person to have held a faculty appointment at each of UTHealth’s schools, would be proud to know that all of Boutwell’s proceeds will be donated to the Boutwell/McGovern endowed scholarship fund at UTHealth Medical School. To date, more than $134,000 in scholarships have been awarded to medical students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Continue reading for a Q&A with Boutwell.

Bryant Boutwell, DrPH
John P. McGovern, MD, Professor of Oslerian Medicine
Distinguished Teaching Professor
Special Assistant to the President

How did you meet McGovern?

I was writing a book on the history of our UTHealth Medical School in 1996 and he generously provided some funding to help me with videotaping oral histories from each of our living deans at the time. I wanted to write this book in my spare time as a gift to my school for the school’s upcoming 30th anniversary in 2000. That gesture, along with the historical aspects, really appealed to him. In time he liked the project so much he became co-author on the book and we became friends and collaborators on other books and projects the rest of his life. For the last decade of his life, I volunteered my time helping him on various writing projects and sharing stories about the history of our medical center and medicine in general. You could say I was an associate dean at the Medical School by day and attended “McGovern University” at night. I was at his bedside at John Sealy Hospital on May 31, 2007, when he died and I delivered a tribute at his memorial service.

What did McGovern’s friendship mean to you? 

McGovern with Boutwell in 1998

McGovern with Boutwell in 1998

He changed my focus to the importance of the humanities in medicine. He gave me books on Sir William Osler and inspired me to redirect my interests to teaching medical history and the humanities. In 2005, he funded UTHealth’s McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics after seeing the work of a number of talented faculty who had launched a “Health and the Human Spirit” program at the time. When the McGovern Center was created, Dr. Thomas Cole assumed the directorship. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the Center’s faculty and work with students in these humanities programs. How proud Dr. McGovern would be to know that in the coming academic year the McGovern Center will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

How did the idea of starting McGovern’s biography come about?

I trained as a news journalist first and have always been a writer. I had this wonderful collection of the stories of McGovern’s life he had shared with me over the years that needed to be told. We all see the name McGovern on buildings, professorships, lectures, even a campus of the Texas Medical Center – but who was the man behind the name and why did he start a charitable foundation that continues to give back to our community? When he died in 2007, I was busy heading up SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation for UTHealth. With that successfully completed in 2010, I began to research and write the stories of McGovern’s life and continued working half-time at the McGovern Center. This book took three years and Texas A&M University Press showed immediate interest, given they have published a growing collection of Texas Medical Center and Houston history books in recent years. I’m glad McGovern’s biography now joins books on Jesse Jones, the MD Anderson Foundation, Fred Elliott, Mavis Kelsey and others.

Why do you want to tell McGovern’s stories?

Boutwell writing the biography of John P. McGovern

Boutwell writing the biography of
John P. McGovern, MD

There is much to be learned through the life stories of John P. McGovern as he came to Houston from Tulane in 1956. Many see his name on buildings and programs and forget he was above all else a pediatrician/allergist who built the world’s largest privately owned allergy clinics in the shadow of the young Texas Medical Center where he held faculty appointments at Baylor and the UT Postgraduate School of Medicine (precursor to our UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences). His stories are interesting and important ones regarding the growth of this medical city and the foundation he started in 1961 and tirelessly grew into many millions in order to give back. His legacy is important and reaches well beyond Houston, as itemized in appendix C of the book. I’ve included the background to his stories so the reader will have historical perspective on the many stops along his life journey. Stories of growing up in Washington D.C. during the Great Depression, Duke University, the early Texas Medical Center, building his foundation, the National Library of Medicine, his dedication to the Oslerian principles of patient-centered care and the humanities…these are just a few of the stories of his life.

How and when did The Bryant Boutwell, DrPH and John P. McGovern, MD Medical Student Scholarship Fund at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston get started?

The first book that I put together for the medical school’s 30th anniversary is called Conversations with a Medical School. I still get requests for that book 14 years later and have stockpiled several hundred copies as the day will come when the book will be of great interest for the school’s 50th anniversary. Since it was developed as a gift to the medical school at no cost in writing time, production, or printing, McGovern and I decided that any sales would go directly to an endowed scholarship fund for medical students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was rather surprised when McGovern suggested we name it the Boutwell/McGovern scholarship fund and not the other way around.  Annually, the McGovern Foundation continues to build the fund for the benefit of students. Sales of books and other gift contributions go into the fund as well. And now the author royalties for the McGovern biography will go directly to UTHealth and this scholarship fund. It is what Dr. McGovern would have wanted and represents a win-win for me as I honor my friend and help UTHealth students at the same time. Since 2003, the Boutwell/McGovern scholarship fund has assisted 27 medical school students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the Medical School’s Office of Student Affairs.

What does this scholarship mean to you?

I’ve interviewed medical student applicants for many years and served on the Admissions Committee in the past. Endowed student scholarships are important and essential and we need more of them at UTHealth. It means giving back to others which is something my friend and mentor knew a great deal about. Since 1974, the Texas Medical Center and UTHealth have been central to my life and this is one way I can help make a difference for others and preserve a bit of our history through my writings for generations to come.

What did the students at UTHealth and their education mean to McGovern and what do they mean to you?

Dr. McGovern never wanted to be called a philanthropist. He was a physician, researcher and teacher first and foremost. He held faculty appointments at each of our schools over the years and understood that UTHealth really is Houston’s health university. He believed in interdisciplinary programs that bring the health care team together. He believed in the humanities and the fact that we’re caring for patients, not simply treating disease. He was a great teacher and cared about our institution and our students.

I left MD Anderson in 1993 to join UTHealth. At the time I was an assistant professor in the Division of Cancer Prevention with NCI-funded grants. I enjoyed the research but missed students and opportunities to teach. Dr. John C. Ribble was dean of the Medical School and searching for an assistant dean who could run communications programs and community outreach and also help facilitate problem-based learning that was just starting up at the time. Working with students was exactly what I wanted to do and over the past two decades I’ve never looked back.

Learn more about McGovern in Boutwell’s latest installment of ‘Bout Time.