By Bryant Boutwell, Dr.P.H.
Behind the name
John P. McGovern, M.D.
The new John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities,
and the Human Spirit is much more than a new program within the curricula
of our Medical School. It is an important and timely statement by Dean
Stanley Schultz and our faculty that the human dimensions of patient
care must never be lost to the fast-paced technological world of medicine
in which we live. In light of managed care and “expert” computerized
diagnostic systems, an emphasis on teaching ethics, professionalism,
and the human dignity of each and every patient (not client) is more
important than ever.
That our new center, directed by Dr. Tom Cole (see Spring 2004 issue),
bears the name McGovern, should come as no surprise. Drive around Houston
and you will find the McGovern name on a multitude of buildings and programs
that share the common theme of improving the quality of life for all
in our community. Hermann Park’s Childrens Zoo, Hermann Park Lake, the Texas Medical Center McGovern
Commons, a new and innovative library on Stella Link bearing his name, the highly
successful McGovern Museum for Health and Medical Science, the John P. McGovern,
M.D. Center for Health, Humanities, and the Human Spirit at the UT Medical School
at Houston – all represent an impressive list of contributions Dr. McGovern
has made in recent years to better our community.
Born in Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. June 2, 1921, John P. McGovern
was educated in the D.C. public school system and earned his undergraduate and
medical degrees from Duke University and its School of Medicine. His father was
a surgeon and the last to get paid during the difficult years of the Depression,
he recalls. From his parents and family he learned values. “My mother,
father, grandmother, aunts, and uncles were wonderful, powerful models of unconditional
love and moral values by words and deeds,” he notes.
The year 1956 was an important year for Houston. A faculty member at Tulane,
Dr. McGovern was in Beaumont making a presentation when his friends convinced
him to explore the possibility of moving to Houston. With great care he researched
the suggestion and conferred with close friends. Perhaps the pivotal moment was
a call he placed to Dr. Grant Taylor, one of his professors at Duke who had come
to Houston to lead the new pediatrics program for M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Grant Taylor was not one to forget the impression this young man, a Markle Scholar
at Duke, had made on the faculty and Duke’s larger-than-life dean, Wilburt
C. Davison, M.D.
Nearly 50 years later, Dr. McGovern, remembers the conversation well. “Grant
Taylor suggested Houston just might be a good place to start an allergy practice.
He told me about the Texas Medical Center and the Postgraduate School of Medicine
that he led under the guidance of the cancer hospital’s president, Dr.
R. Lee Clark. He told me of opportunities at Baylor College of Medicine and The
University of Texas and the spirit of working together with student education,
discovery, and patient care at the forefront. I made the decision to come to
Perhaps the history of Houston, and certainly the Texas Medical Center, changed
with that decision. John P. McGovern not only came to Houston, he joined Dr.
Taylor, who served as dean of the Postgraduate School of Medicine (now the Graduate
School of Biomedical Sciences, GSBS). He also received a faculty appointment
at Baylor College of Medicine. Only a year after his arrival, Dr. McGovern founded
the first Board Certified Fellowship Program in Allergy and Immunology in Texas
at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital. To this day he holds professorial
appointments at all six schools within the UT Health Science Center at Houston,
along with faculty appointments at Baylor and UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Dr. Taylor’s prediction that Houston might be good place for an allergy
practice was not lost on the enterprising allergist. Upon his arrival in Houston,
Dr. McGovern founded the McGovern Allergy Clinic in a small clinic off Montrose
Boulevard that grew into the country’s largest specialty clinic of its
kind in an impressive facility Dr. McGovern built at Brompton and Holcombe. His
reputation as an outstanding clinician, researcher, teacher, and scholar of medical
history grew rapidly and reached far beyond the Texas Medical Center.
For nearly 40 years, Dr. McGovern practiced medicine in Houston while training
countless physicians and demanding the very best for his patients, his research,
residents, and fellows. Today, as founder emeritus of the McGovern Allergy Clinic,
he reflects with great pride the many accomplishments of that program under his
direction. In 1969, he founded the American Osler Society dedicated to furthering
the Oslerian values of humane and ethical care and medical excellence. The great
Canadian physician, Sir William Osler, authored the leading medical text of his
time and is widely regarded as the father of modern medicine and a role model
for humanistic care and teaching medical students at the bedside.
In 1961, he started the John P. McGovern Foundation with just $10,000 and nurtured
its growth. Working seemingly around the clock, he quietly dedicates himself
to improve the lives of others. He is well known for sharing generously the wealth
he has accumulated. In doing so he continues to invest himself in his patients,
the Texas Medical Center, and the community at large. The same Oslerian attributes
that he has followed in his medical practice to listen and care deeply about
his patients, he continues to apply to his community. Simply stated, he listens
to the community and gives back.
Today, numerous endowments and teaching awards in the Texas Medical Center and
academic health centers throughout the country bear his name. Add to the list
at the top of this story McGovern’s vision and support for the Miller Theatre,
the Museum District, programs for the elderly and indigent, community parks for
families and children, drug-free business initiatives, halfway houses, initiatives
to address alcohol and drug abuse (local and national) – the list of his
reach is simply impressive by any standard.
In addition to 17 professorships he holds throughout the nation, he has received
honorary degrees from 28 major universities and is past president or chief elected
officer of 15 professional societies in medicine, science, and health education
along with 252 professional publications and 26 books. He has been honored by
presidents in this country and abroad. The accolades locally and nationwide are
frequent and on a scale that are too numerous to enumerate in this publication.
From his lifelong friend and mentor, Dean Wilburt Davison at Duke Medical School,
he learned a love of academic medicine and the importance of caring deeply for
patients and students alike. Since Dr. Davison’s death in 1972, he will
tell you that not a day goes by that he doesn’t stop and think about his
close friend and mentor. He’s also quick to thank his wife of more than
40 years, Kathy, who he credits with saving his life through her care and devotion.
While a serious heart attack in recent years proved a setback to his health,
he continues to work tirelessly and looks forward to the future. Our UT Health
Science Center family of schools remains a great source of pride and at age 84,
his interest in students and patient-centered medical education remains ageless.