Monday, July 09, 2007

East meets West

Fresh from cataloging to its permanent home in the PNW Archives collection is an unusual little volume entitled Onshi Guria Sensei o shinonde or, in translated form, The memories of Dr. Greer. A compilation of reminiscences by former research fellows, the book celebrates the career of Monte A. Greer, M.D. (1922-2002), longtime former chair of the Division of Endocrinology at OHSU. The fellows worked with Greer over a period of many years, from 1957 to 1992, and most went on to become professors of medicine or hospital administrators in Japan.

Dr. Greer lectured extensively in Japan and elsewhere, and he was fluent in Japanese (as well as Slovak). He was known for pioneering work in medical treatment of goiters and overactive thyroids at a time when most patients were forced to undergo surgery. He was the first to demonstrate a relationship between the hypothalamus region of the brain, the pituitary gland and the thyroid gland. He also was the first to isolate substances in foods that can contribute to the development of goiters. He later showed how thyroid hormone could be used to counteract goiter development. He authored several books and numerous research articles, the last of which was published in May of 2002 shortly before his death at the age of 79.

In his oral history interview, former Dean John W. Kendall, M.D., had this to say about Greer:

ASH: .... So you were here with Monte Greer. Can you tell me something about him?

KENDALL: Well, Monte's a very interesting scientist. He was a leader in the field at that time who did some of the first work on the brain effects on the endocrine system. He was the first to discover the zone of the brain that helps to control the thyroid gland, for example. And he also isolated a naturally occurring substance in cabbage and things like that that causes goiter, a large amount of thyroid.

So he was a good scientist, and a very good teacher in the sense that he was an excellent critic. And so he came here as the second head of Endocrinology. .... A very good teacher, that’s what I’d say about him. A very good critic....

Monte finally drove me into administration. He was such a terrible administrator that he drove me into becoming a better administrator [laughing], and that's why I ended up actually spending a lot of my career in administrative posts, because he was such a poor role model. I'm not decrying him; he was superb as a scientist and superb as a teacher, but he couldn’t administer his way out of a paper bag, and you can quote that.

ASH: Now, did you help him administer, or you just learned from him what not to do?

KENDALL: A little of both. I got an NIH grant early in my career, and I went out and hired a consultant to come and help us straighten out our lab. Well, administration—I spent a thousand bucks of the money. Next thing I found myself down in the Dean's Office at the time... and the administrator there saying I committed a horrible crime by spending the money on an administrative consultant instead of on the science. And I said, "Listen, that money will do more than any other money will to do make science move forward."

So anyway, we got the consultant, and he came in and told us that we should have one person answer the phones, and we should file everything alphabetically [laughs].

ASH: This is not brain surgery.

KENDALL: It was the fundamentals of administration. And I kid Monte about it, so I don’t care if he hears this because it’s, A, the truth, and B, we enjoy jabbing at one another.

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