Celebrating Our Leaders
As part of the continuing festivities celebrating the opening of the new School of Medicine building, last night we had the pleasure, in the presence of their close friends and family, of unveiling the official portraits of two former Vice Chancellors and School of Medicine Deans, Dr. Dan Jones and Dr. Jimmy Keeton.
One of the things I appreciate about UMMC is we take the time to celebrate our heroes from the past. From Pankratz to Guyton to Hardy to Nelson to Bower to Barnes, the giants of the past are never far from our minds or our hearts.
The portraits, which are spectacular, were painted by the Oxford artist Jason Bouldin. If that name rings a bell it should, since he is the son of the late, great portrait artist Marshall Bouldin III, who painted many of the portraits of UMMC leaders that currently adorn Medical Center walls – Nelson, Conerly, Batson, Wiser and others. Jason must have inherited his father’s gene for portraiture because he has achieved international acclaim in his own right and these new portraits demonstrate why. I am thankful for Jason’s talent and for the donors who made these portraits possible.
The real treat for me was the opportunity to pay public homage to two great men with whom I have had the privilege to work closely for most of my administrative career. Here are some excerpts from my remarks:
Dan Jones, who is now serving as director of clinical and population science of the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research and interim chair of the Department of Medicine, is the epitome of the term “transformational leadership.” In the six years he served as vice chancellor (2003-2009), he propelled the Medical Center forward at least 20 years. He truly transformed us into an academic medical center with modern business practices that demanded high quality results in academics, research and clinical care.
During Dan’s time as vice chancellor and dean, there were not as many building dedications or outward evidence of change as there had been in the Wallace Conerly era. From the perspective of a faculty or staff member working here, however, everything changed.
Here’s a partial list:
- He led the charge to clean the place up – the floors, the hallways, the rooms.
- He consolidated the faculty practice plan, against considerable resistance.
- He recruited prominent physicians from the local community – something that had not been done before.
- He saw the changes coming on the horizon and invested in our IT infrastructure, moving us literally from pencil and paper to an electronic business platform and beginning the conversations for our electronic health record.
- He led an internal campaign to teach “us” who we were and what we were a part of, instilling pride in our identity and our work.
- He got us all to believe that “good enough” wasn’t good enough – that excellence was possible.
The phrase is overused, but in Dan Jones’ case it fits: He changed our culture.
Often faculty and staff were uncertain about these changes. For many leaders, trying to make so many changes so quickly would not have been successful. But Dan was trusted. And because he was trusted people were willing to walk a rocky path as they followed him.
The “good news” moments we are able to savor now – the opening of the School of Medicine building, the upcoming Translational Research Center opening, the successes of our transplant program, our pediatric cardiovascular program, the Jackson Heart Study, and on and on – are possible because of the foundation he put in place for the future.
Dr. Jimmy Keeton was integral to our leadership team when Dr. Jones served as vice chancellor. In early 2010, however, after Dan had become chancellor of the university, Jimmy was happily headed toward retirement. He had served as interim vice chancellor for about 7 months and Plan A was a new leader would be appointed to take over the job on a permanent basis. Jimmy would be settling down to a life of golf, Ole Miss football and travel with his wife, Jona.
However, Plan A didn’t work out. Plan B? Plan B was for Jimmy Keeton to take on the responsibilities as vice chancellor and dean. We are all indebted to Jimmy that he put off his retirement to serve as our leader. And that once he assumed this role, he made the most of it.
He accomplished many things, including making the new School of Medicine a reality. Dan Jones set the path, but Jimmy Keeton pushed the ball across the goal line.
From 2009-2015, he made me a partner in his leadership. It was an amazing gift of six years to learn from him, and it prepared me for the position I hold today.
One of the very special things about Jimmy is that he is comfortable being who he is. The fact that he did not always have to be in the spotlight, that he was so very generous with me and others about participating in decisions, and that he didn’t mind views that differed from his own but even invited them, speaks volumes about his own self-confidence and humility. And let me tell you, in the highest levels of academic medicine, this kind of leader is a rare find.
During his tenure, he was UMMC’s greatest cheerleader, touting the good work happening here at every opportunity. He spoke at the National Press Club, at many national meetings, and to the men’s Sunday school class down the street – there was no audience too large or too small for him. He was always excited to share the story of the Medical Center.
Here are a few observations from my time with Jimmy:
- We had a blast. He’s a fun guy. There were some serious moments, some tough decisions, and some real frustrations. But he has a great sense of humor and we laughed a lot.
- He has a youthful energy and the get-up-and-go of a much younger person and he’s game for anything.
- He has an inquisitive mind and an adventurous spirit. I have known very few people who are as well-read or as curious about such a range of subjects as Jimmy is.
- His time as a pediatric urologist – the challenges his patients faced and the concern and care he had for them – is underappreciated. That time of his life, I believe, really shaped who he is. The issues he had to face, such as gender assignment surgery, which has become a mainstream topic of conversation, Jimmy was thinking about and having to respond to long before the rest of us.
- He’s a champion for LGBTQ rights. Our students know that and they love him for it. More than that, though, he’s a champion for ALL people and for human dignity.
During their tenure, these two leaders had the vision for the building in which their portraits will now hang. Generations to come will know their story, and how much their work advanced us in our journey toward A Healthier Mississippi.