May 8, 2019 | (111) Comments

When I was young, I remember my mom as many things. She effortlessly moved between being my teacher and comforter, my playmate and disciplinarian. She helped my young heart heal when I hurt, and redirected me – sometimes gently, other times swiftly – when I needed guidance.

I came to know her as my confidant and biggest supporter – she was quick with encouragement and never bashful about telling me how proud I made her or how much she loved me. As I grew older, I was beyond fortunate that sweet, lively Mollie Wallace became, above all, my friend.

Mollie was a phenomenal mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and I have adored her my entire life. Until I was about 35 years old, my mom always had a job, and I greatly admired her strong work ethic. She worked as a secretary at our church, and then at our high school, where she was the secretary to the principal. At one point, she went to work for Warrior Oil, a small company owned by Mr. E.A. Obering. He was a very wealthy oil man in Oklahoma City – very distinguished and sophisticated, and my mom helped administer his personal and professional responsibilities.

My mom wasn’t formally educated, but she was incredibly smart. Mollie was sharp, self-motivated and resourceful, and she always made the most out of everything. We were barely middle class, yet I can remember when we were growing up that no matter where we went – to school, church or wherever – she always had my brother, sister and I dressed well and such that we felt proud whenever we walked through the door.

Mom also sparked my love for basketball, which is likely why I went on to play all through high school and college. Mollie was the captain of her girls’ high school basketball team in Choteau, Oklahoma. And you know what? When my brother and I were in middle school and high school playing basketball outside, Mom would come out there and play with us. That’s right – she’d play horse with us. And she would sometimes win too! She had a pretty good two-handed set shot!

To top it off, Mom was also a great cook. She was a fantastic baker and made the most amazing pies and cakes. She once even won the state baking contest with her famous Big Ben cake. Her prize was a new gas range and oven, and I remember that they came out to the house and filmed a commercial in our kitchen with my mom. Boy, was I proud of her. There we were in our little modest, three-bedroom house in Oklahoma City, and there was Mom in her apron filming a commercial for television. She was really something else.

Mollie Wallace Big Ben Cake recipeMollie Wallace turned 90 on Sunday, April 7. And as I celebrated my dear mom this year, I knew she would not be with us much longer, as she had end-stage congestive heart failure. Knowing this made it an emotional day, but it also made me reflect on how grateful I was for Mom. She lived to be 90, and she had enjoyed 64 years of marriage with my dad. They shared a truly wonderful marriage and lots of great friends. They had such a good time together. I remember them as a really fun couple, and they
were fun parents.

Last month, a week after her birthday, I lost my dear mom. Mollie was 90 years young, and I am beyond grateful for every minute I shared with her. It is such a strange feeling when you lose a parent who’s been as good as Mom was to us. You know it’s inevitable, and at a certain point, you know it’s for the best. Yet, it was still very difficult.

Here’s the blessing of it though: I got to have my precious mother in my life for nearly 66 years. I called her every single day. And I knew the day she was gone, I would miss those calls very much. I sure do. But I’m grateful that God saw fit to give me her love, joy, and wisdom.

Happy Mother’s Day to every woman who loves and nurtures a child the way my mom did. I will always believe this world was made better because of Mollie Wallace and every mother like her.

In memory of my mom, I’m sharing the recipe for her famous, blue ribbon-winning Big Ben cake. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.


November 28, 2016 | (6) Comments

World renowned surgical pioneer Dr. Denton A. Cooley once said, “I find I’m luckier when I work harder.” We at Texas Children’s were actually the “lucky” ones. A few days ago, we lost one of the greatest surgeons of the 20th century. But for decades, we were recipients of Dr. Cooley’s gifted hands and mind, and we will be forever grateful for the indelible impact he made on the history of medicine and his contributions to Texas Children’s.

Dr. Cooley is one of the most important figures in the history and success of our hospital as we know it today. He was a phenomenal pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, and he was the co-founder and chief of cardiovascular surgery at Texas Children’s Heart Center. It was Dr. Cooley in surgery and Dr. Dan McNamara, the father of pediatric cardiology, who laid the foundation for what has remained one of our centers of excellence for more than 60 years.

When Dr. Cooley was beginning his career in Houston in the 1950s, he was already thinking about things no one else could fathom. One of those things was pediatric cardiovascular surgery – what we now refer to as congenital heart surgery. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, adult cardiovascular surgery was considerably ahead of congenital surgery on babies, children and adolescents. People were afraid to operate on babies. In fact, the rule of thumb was you didn’t operate on a baby less than a year old.

I think the challenge of such a complex undertaking is what fascinated Dr. Cooley. And every person who worked alongside him said he had the best set of surgical hands they had ever seen. So I imagine what drove Dr. Cooley was a tremendous sense of responsibility to use his talent and skill in the most challenging arenas, on the toughest cases. Operating successfully on babies and children and creating hope and possibility where neither had previously existed presented him that challenge, and he absolutely rose to and beyond it.

Lest one could possibly take for granted just how special Dr. Cooley was, there was always an intriguing reminder. I recall traveling with him in 1994 to the White House at the request of First Lady Hillary Clinton. Dr. Cooley was very interested in health policy, and First Lady Clinton was leading the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. She invited a contingent of about 20 Texas Medical Center leaders to the White House to discuss health care reform.

On the shuttle to the White House, I remember talking with Dr. Cooley in great anticipation of the visit. We arrived, and we were taken to The Roosevelt Room, one of the most distinguished venues within the White House. When we met with First Lady Clinton, she greeted each member of the group, but she stopped and spent a generous amount of time speaking with Dr. Cooley. It was obvious that she had looked forward to meeting him more than anyone else, and she was clearly in awe of his presence. The rest of us were in awe of the White House, the historic splendor of The Roosevelt Room and the company of the first lady, and she was completely enamored with Dr. Cooley.

I recall another occasion when Larry King visited Texas Children’s. He was impressed with the hospital but could not resist requesting a visit with Dr. Cooley. I sat with Larry King in his heyday and Dr. Cooley, talking about the future of medicine, Hollywood, entertainment and their friendship, and it was just fascinating.

Dr. Cooley was indeed some kind of special. He was gifted and confident, for sure, but he was also tempered. He didn’t brag – his skills and outcomes spoke volumes. And the only thing that possibly compared was his work ethic. He worked Monday through Friday, 12 to 14 hours a day. He made rounds on Saturday morning, came back and made rounds again on Sunday morning, and then he went to church. For decades, he consistently worked 6½ days a week, and ultimately, he performed more than 100,000 heart procedures. That is amazing, and it is a record that will probably never be broken.

We have lost one of the last titans of the Texas Medical Center. But there is neither time, words nor space to describe how much we have gained from them. Dr. Denton Cooley, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Dr. James “Red” Duke, Dr. R. Lee Clark, Dr. Ralph Feigin, and so many others have gone, but they all left such precious gifts – impeccable vision and the fruits of their ceaseless, inspiring pursuits. Dr. Cooley’s passing last week was the end of an era in the Texas Medical Center, but he used his calling and his time here to create possibilities that will renew life forever more.

Thank you, Dr. Cooley. Very well and precisely done, my friend.

November 15, 2016 | (5) Comments

Yesterday, I said a last goodbye to George A. Peterkin, Jr. – a good friend and avid supporter of Texas Children’s Hospital for nearly 50 years.

George joined the Texas Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees in 1967. His 49 years on our Board is the longest in the hospital’s history. George also served as Board president in 1978 and 1979, and then as chairman from 1987 through 1991. In addition, he served for many years as a member of the Texas Children’s Hospital Foundation Board, sharing his knowledge and expertise, and providing invaluable guidance. But it is not just George’s longevity of service that is notable. It was the quality of his governance and leadership that made him the best all-around trustee in the history of Texas Children’s.

And as many people know, George was the principal trustee who recruited young infectious disease pediatrician Dr. Ralph Feigin from St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University to come be the physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in 1977. Then 12 years later, in 1989, he recruited me from Houston Methodist Hospital to be Texas Children’s CEO, working alongside Ralph and with the Board.

Dr. Feigin and I were battery mates from 1989 until his untimely death in 2008. That’s 20 years, and I think during that period we did what George aspired to – we made Texas Children’s one of the preeminent children’s and women’s hospitals in the nation.

Throughout the years, George provided crucial leadership during times of significant challenges for Texas Children’s, and he also oversaw the hospital’s first major expansion with the addition of the West Tower and the Clinical Care Center (now the Feigin Center). His exceptional leadership during these years helped build a foundation of financial strength and renewed commitment to the mission, thereby ensuring the future success of Texas Children’s.

In 2012, we acknowledged George’s rich and generous legacy with a Texas Children’s Board resolution naming the George A. Peterkin, Jr. Boardroom in Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in his honor. We wanted to recognize his leadership in imparting the value of quality governance and fiscal responsibility and its impact on the continued success of Texas Children’s.

Those same leadership traits are reflected in George’s “business philosophy,” which he shared with me when I joined Texas Children’s 27 years ago and which still resound today. In honor of my friend, I want to share an excerpt of that philosophy with you.

My Business Philosophy George A. Peterkin, Jr.

Following are the business cardinals that I consider to be paramount:

  1. Honesty is a trait that all employees must have.  Integrity toward business and toward each other are of the utmost importance.
  2. Think like an owner.
  3. In your contacts with your colleagues and those whom you supervise, exercise discretion through your competence, not your authority.  Plans, ideas or solutions which are “sold” generally work out better for the company than plans which are mandated.
  4.  Please, no surprises.  Keep me posted as there will be times when I want to have input on appropriate priorities.  With particular reference to bad news, I do not want to hear it from an outsider first; I want to hear it from you.
  5. A pleasant atmosphere is conducive to job accomplishment.  Being polite and helpful are important to that atmosphere; besides, smiles and laughter are said to be good for your health.
  6. Understand where the company is headed and what your role is.  If not clear, ask.
  7. Have a good feel for your job priorities so that you do first things first.
  8. Be loyal to the objectives of the company, not to me or any other person in the company.
  9. When you come to a problem you would like to discuss, obtain the requisite facts, and try to have a recommended solution.
  10. Be a good coach to your people.  If you find you need to be offering more direction than support, either retrain or rehire.
  11. Company politics are not part of our corporate culture and have no place here.
  12. Don’t confuse cleverness with maturity and judgment.
  13. We all have strengths and weaknesses.  Relax and concentrate on your strengths.  Be open about what you are doing.  Some of the rest of us may be able to help.
  14. Always be aware of the outside influences that affect our business and keep yourself educated on new developments in your area.
  15. I have strongly held beliefs against conflict of interest.  If in doubt, ask.
  16. Never make corporate policy.  If you believe a change is desirable or necessary, let me know so we can consider it together.
  17. Know your objective first, then devise an overall strategy and last, develop the tactical approach to implement the strategy.  This should not be a casual process.
  18. Never become a yes man.  Present your point of view with your supporting argument and I will always listen to your case; however, should a decision be made with which you do not fully agree, I expect you to support the decision as if it were exactly what you wanted.
  19. If you become completely unhappy and frustrated and have not been able to bring about a change, please come talk to me.  Together we may be able to reach a satisfactory solution.
  20. Management should be dynamic, and the above precepts might be able to stand improvement or clarification from time to time.  I would be glad to discuss any of them in more detail at your request.

George was extremely talented in business, finance and investments. He brought those skills with him to Texas Children’s, but most of all, he shared a passion for the mission of Texas Children’s. He wanted us to take care of ALL children, regardless of their financial circumstances. I’m so proud that we are doing just that. And I am forever grateful for each of those glorious 49 years that George gave to Texas Children’s. Thank you George … your legacy will endure for decades to come.

Click here for a video highlighting George Peterkin on the occasion of the boardroom dedication in his honor.