The Legacy of Dr. Arthur G. James (1912–2001)


See the below in timeline form here.

Early Life

Arthur G. James was born on March 14, 1912, in Rhodesdale, a small mining town that no longer exists, in eastern Ohio's Belmont County. He was the third of eight children of Italian immigrants. His father was a coal miner who later ran a small grocery.

The family's home was rented from the mining company that employed Mr. James, and Arthur's elementary education began in a one-room mining-town school. When he was in third grade, the family moved to nearby Uniontown; the school there consisted of one room for the first three grades and a second room for the other five.

As a boy, Arthur worked in the family store, learning all phases of the business and helping to deliver groceries — first in a horse-drawn cart and later in a pickup truck.

In 1930, he graduated from St. Clairsville High School as co-valedictorian and enrolled at Ohio State, where he received a scholarship covering registration and incidental fees. In college, he worked in a cafeteria for his meals and shared an inexpensive attic room with two other students while excelling at his studies.

His scholastic average was high enough to qualify for the freshman honorary society. He completed his Arts School training in 1933 and was accepted into the College of Medicine. His medical school summers were spent caring for laboratory animals and cleaning glassware and equipment, jobs that helped pay his educational expenses. He earned his MD, along with an MMSc, in 1937.

From there he completed a medical internship at the University of Chicago and a surgical internship at Duke University in North Carolina before coming back to Ohio State for a three-year surgical residency. He served as chief resident in 1941–1942.

Cancer Call

In later years, Dr. James would trace his interest in cancer to his internship at the University of Chicago. Influenced by a cancer surgeon there whose work was advanced for the day and resulted in many patient recoveries, the young physician decided after completing his surgical residency to apply for a fellowship at Memorial Hospital in New York City, which at the time was one of the nation's very few cancer hospitals.

He was accepted and began his fellowship on July 1, 1942, but just six weeks later he was called into service for World War II with the 65th General Hospital, which he had joined while at Duke University. He reported for duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the hospital soon became attached to the 8th Air Force stationed on the North Sea in England.

After the war, he returned to Memorial Hospital to finish his fellowship training before going back to Ohio State in 1947 as an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery. He would remain at Ohio State for the rest of his career, working his way up to full professor and chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology. He was also the first to hold the Lucius A. Wing Chair of Cancer Research and Therapy.

Chasing a Dream

Buoyed by fond memories of his fellowship experience, Dr. James began envisioning the benefits a cancer hospital could bring to Ohio and the Midwest. Over the years, various obstacles dampened but never doused his dream.

In 1954 he became medical director of the Columbus Cancer Clinic, which appointed a committee to look into establishing an inpatient cancer facility. Three years later, the clinic created a hospital fund of $100,000 from transferred memorial monies, and in 1962 it proposed creation of a cancer hospital to the Mid-Ohio Health Planning Federation. But the federation rejected the idea in favor of applying available funds toward additional hospital beds that were needed for patient care.

Over the next decade, Dr. James' prominence continued to grow through his skills as a cancer surgeon and his selection as president of Head and Neck Surgeons (1967–1968), of the Society of Surgical Oncology (1970–1971) and, ultimately, of the American Cancer Society (1972–1973).

With his dream still simmering, he resumed his efforts to bring a cancer hospital to Columbus in 1974, but once again he faced defeat as voters a year later rejected a bond issue that would have raised funds for the project.

A turning point came in 1976 when the National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated The Ohio State University as a Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) — a leader in cancer research clinically applied to patient care. Ohio State was one of fewer than 20 CCCs in the nation at that time.

Riding on the prestige this designation brought to the university, Dr. James presented his dream of a cancer hospital for Columbus to a group of influential community leaders and asked for their support. Several accompanied him on a visit to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to see firsthand the benefits that could be derived from such facilities. Together these leaders formed the Ohio Cancer Foundation, which backed the idea of a local cancer facility.

Aware of growing local support, the Ohio Legislature in 1981 passed a $40 million appropriation for construction of a cancer hospital; Ohio State contributed another $14 million. Ground was broken in 1984. Three years later the cornerstone was set and the hospital was named for Dr. James at a formal dedication ceremony.

Midway through construction, Dr. James reflected on what was about to be. "In making early morning patient rounds," he wrote, "I usually pass a large window through which I can see the construction site. On a morning when the sun is just beginning to rise, the Institute makes a very impressive picture. It is obvious that a new day is dawning."

But fate wasn't finished. In December 1989, three weeks before the new hospital was scheduled to open, a water line on the 13th floor froze and broke. Water cascaded down through the fully furnished facility, flooding the floors and converting the building's exterior, by many personal accounts, into a giant icicle. The resulting damages, estimated at $2.4 million, delayed the hospital opening by six months, but Dr. James was characteristically unperturbed. He knew it would open eventually.

A Dream Fulfilled

On July 9, 1990, the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at last opened for business. In a modest ceremony, the first patient was wheeled into the facility from adjoining University Hospitals by a small group that included Dr. James, who cordially welcomed the patient upon his arrival in the 10th floor nursing unit. The hospital had 17 patients on its first day.

Although the aging Dr. James retired from seeing patients that same year, he had an office at the hospital and maintained an everyday presence in an emeritus role while also assisting the Development Department in fundraising efforts until 1996, when failing health prevented his return.

"I still like to get up early and go to the hospital," he told an interviewer in 1995. "I see people whom I have treated or friends who are now patients of other doctors. I enjoy touring the hospital and discussing our research programs. I try to keep updated on new ideas."

He considered the hospital to be the greatest accomplishment of his career, but he derived equal satisfaction from caring for patients, especially when they were cured and could resume productive lives.

Even in retirement, Dr. James never stopped dreaming.

"My personal goal for this hospital is that it become the number one cancer hospital in the country," he once said. "This would mean we can achieve the best results in treatment because we have the most advanced methods."

He occasionally gave voice to his most sublime dream of all: the global eradication of cancer. "All cancer will eventually be wiped out; there's no doubt about that. I don't know how long it will take...but I'm sure the day is coming."

His life expired before that day arrived, but his spirit remains among all who carry on his legacy at The James on behalf of cancer patients everywhere.

"Dr. James wanted this hospital to be a leader in the eradication of cancer, and everyone here is working toward that end," said Michael Caligiuri, MD, chief executive officer of The James. "His vision of a cancer-free world fuels our daily efforts. He has entrusted us with his dream, and we won't rest until we see it through."

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