In Memoriam: ASCO Remembers Founding Member Jane Cooke Wright, MD

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Earlier this year, ASCO and the oncology community at large lost a true pioneer, mentor, and renowned researcher. It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Jane Cooke Wright, MD, one of seven founding members of ASCO—the only woman among the founders—and the Society’s first Secretary/Treasurer. Dr. Wright died on Tuesday, February 19, at the age of 93. In 2011, ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation formally recognized Dr. Wright’s contributions to the field of oncology through the creation of the Jane C. Wright, MD, Young Investigator Award.

Dr. Wright’s leadership at ASCO, her contributions to the field of oncology, and her dedication and passion for finding a cure for cancer were evident throughout her life and career. She graduated with honors from New York Medical College in 1945, interned at Bellevue Hospital, and completed her residency at Harlem Hospital. Following her residency, she continued on as a visiting physician at Harlem Hospital and was also hired as a staff physician with the New York City Public Schools.

Pioneer in Chemotherapy

At a time when chemotherapy treatment was largely thought of as experimental, Dr. Wright pioneered the use of anticancer agents and developed new techniques for administering cancer chemotherapy. In 1949, she left the New York City Public School system to work with her father, who served as the Director of the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital. Together, the two began testing a new agent on human leukemias and lymphomas, with some success. Several years later, Dr. Wright began her work at the New York University Medical Center as the Director of Cancer Chemotherapy Research.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Dr. Wright to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. That same year, in Chicago, seven oncologists, including Dr. Wright, assembled for lunch in the Edgewater Beach Hotel. This diverse group of physicians—who shared an interest in the fledging field of cancer chemotherapy with greater patient-related orientation—recognized the need for the creation of a separate society dedicated to issues unique to clinical oncology. It was the very first meeting of ASCO.

From 1964 to 1967, Dr. Wright served as the Secretary/Treasurer of the newly formed Society. Together, the seven founding members developed a strong purpose and vision for ASCO, establishing the need for new methods to approaching the treatment of people with cancer. Much of their early meetings and discussions provided the framework for the Society’s current activities. During Dr. Wright’s tenure, membership of the Society grew to 175 members, and nearly every year since 1964, Dr. Wright attended what we know today as the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Changed the Face of Medicine

Dr. Wright was a true trailblazer. At a time when African American women physicians numbered only a few hundred in the United States, she was the highest ranked African American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution. She was not only a pioneer in the field of cancer research and treatment, but also a leader, opening minds and doors for those who would follow after her. During her 40-year career, Dr. Wright showed rigor towards scientific investigation with a keen tenderness and focus on patient care, and her contributions to the research of cancer chemotherapy have helped to change the face of medicine.

If you would like to make a donation in honor of Dr. Wright and her lifetime of improving cancer care through research, you can do so in support of the Jane C. Wright, MD, Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award. Please help us honor her memory by making a gift today:

Dr. Wright will continue to be an inspiration for many generations to come and we will never forget the lasting impact she had on ASCO as one of our founding members. ■

© 2013. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.