Past ASCO President, John Ridgway Durant, MD, Dies at 82

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Dr. Durant will be remembered fondly as a man who filled his days and years as a doer-doctor whose clarity of thought and vision helped shape ASCO into the world’s leading professional cancer organization.

John Ridgway Durant, MD, ASCO’s 20th President, was born on July 29th, 1930, and died on October 28th, 2012. Dates that mark a person’s birth and passing are made all the more significant by how that person filled the days that link the two milestones. Dr. Durant will be remembered fondly as a man who filled his days and years as a doer-doctor whose clarity of thought and vision helped shape ASCO into the world’s leading professional cancer organization.

Education and Career Highlights

Dr. Durant was born and reared in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After graduating from Lower Merion High School in 1948, Dr. Durant entered Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where he earned his BA in 1952. Pursuing his ambition to become a doctor, he received his medical degree 4 years later from Temple University Medical Center in Philadelphia. After Dr. Durant fulfilled his internship obligations at Hartford Hospital in 1957, he served as Junior Assistant Resident in Medicine at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. He then served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1960, and after his discharge, he completed his residency program at Temple University Medical Center.

In 1968, Dr. Durant joined the University of Alabama School of Medicine, where, in 1972, he became the founding Director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is credited with developing the transdisciplinary team of clinicians and basic scientists that led to UBA’s cancer program being one the first eight institutions in the United States to be designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Act of 1971. After leading UAB for 14 years, Dr. Durant—one of the pioneers in initiating the use of combination chemotherapy—was named President and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, a position he held from 1983 to 1988. He then returned to UAB as Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, retiring from that post in 1995.

Leadership Role at ASCO

Retirement, however, was a short-lived pause in Dr. Durant’s future. Beginning in 1992, ASCO’s leadership under Robert C. Young, MD, then Chair of the ASCO Strategic Planning Committee, saw a need for consolidating the Society’s growing organization under one central roof. At that time, ASCO’s day-to-day activities were divided among three locations, which was beginning to stress the Society’s burgeoning governance requirements. The ASCO board determined that in order to transition from external management to self-operation, the Society would need a full-time officer to take a leadership role. They began an extensive search process that culminated in the appointment of Dr. Durant, ASCO’s first Executive Vice President, in 1995. From 1964, when the fledging Society’s membership was 66, the membership had swelled to more that 10,000 when Dr. Durant assumed his leadership role.

Under Dr. Durant’s steady hand and visionary craftsmanship, the Society quickly transitioned from multiple locations under the management of the Bostrom Corporation to a fully staffed, self-managed organization with its headquarters under one roof in Bethesda, Maryland. By the time he retired from his role as Executive Vice President, ASCO had relocated to a larger facility in Alexandria. Dr. Durant acknowledged the wisdom of the board’s decision to centralize ASCO’s widening scope of activities and services as one of the most important decisions in the Society’s history.

In his ASCO Presidential speech titled ASCO—As a Young Adult, Dr. Durant eloquently laid out a blueprint for the Society’s robust maturation, including challenges and potential dangers that lay ahead. His closing words were: “If our Society can meet the challenge, we will enter adulthood with the necessary and optimum blend of science and medicine, and thus serve our patients as truly compassionate clinician-scientists.”

The Society, now in its “adulthood,” continues to meet the challenge that Dr. Durant addressed in his 1985 Presidential speech, and nearly 3 decades later, his imprint on the fundamental ethos of ASCO remains firm. He will be missed. ■