SGO Member Reflections
Society of Gynecologic Oncology: Beginnings of the SGO
In January 1968 John Mikuta, MD, attended a radiation therapy meeting in Miami. In the “Gynecology” section of the program Hervy Averette, MD, presented a paper on his experience with radical hysterectomy for early cervical cancer. Neither man knew the other but John wrote Hervy and this initiated what proved to be a flurry of correspondence. They agreed to meet for the first time in New Orleans at the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics (APGO) meeting coming up in March. They met and had lengthy discussions about their mutual sense of the emerging need for the creation of our society. Notes were jotted down on cocktail napkins at the SkyLite Lounge at the Monteleone Hotel where the meeting was held!
John contacted Michael Newton, MD, then-Director of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and very recently Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Hervy contacted the Mayo Clinic’s Dick Symmonds, MD. Overtures were made to several others. Plans were then made for meeting at the ACOG convention in Chicago in May. This after-hours gathering was attended by John, Hervy, Dr. Newton, Dr. Symmonds, George Lewis, Jr., MD, Denis Cavanagh, MD, Leonard Palumbo, Jr., MD, and Julian Smith, MD.
First SGO Meeting
The decision was made, with over six months to prepare, to hold an organizational meeting in Miami in January, 1969. Dr. George Lewis was designated chairman, Dr. Symmonds, vice chair, Dr. Averette was in charge of local arrangements and the program (and he then involved John Lewis, Jr., MD, as his co-chair. Hervy and splendid wife Barkley handled the heavy duty of local arrangements. They obtained a bit of corporate support for the receptions. They arranged the meeting place at the oceanfront Key Biscayne Hotel and Villas, in beautiful and sparsely populated Key Biscayne, Florida. The daily room rate, which included all three meals “American Plan,” was $40. And for a couple, $54! Mikuta was designated “corresponding secretary.” And correspond, he did! This too was “heavy duty.” Thirty-seven names were identified and John corresponded in detail with all, inviting each to attend this meeting, and of course, to be considered “founding members” of the envisioned Society. All were very interested. Three had conflicts and were granted excused absences. Thirty-four of us attended and each was assigned to one of the working committees, each chaired by one designated by the “coordinating committee”: Bylaws (Alf Sherman, MD); Program/Meetings (John Thompson, MD); Nominations (Dr. Palumbo); Membership (Jim Nelson, MD); Finance (Jerry Masterson, MD); Liaison (Dr. Newton).
The entire time was spent in the meetings of these committees, the discussions and drafting of conclusions and recommendations, and then the preparation for discussions and decisions which was scheduled for the final morning, before adjournment. Needless to say the “corresponding secretary” was busy! Material was collated and a Bylaws document was in preparation. Council, shortly after the 1969 meeting, identified an additional 20 individuals to be invited to attend the 1970 meeting, and also to be identified as founding members. More correspondence for our corresponding secretary! In the interval Hervy obtained further legal input for incorporation of the new Society. By the time the 1970 meeting concluded, the Bylaws were approved. John then became the architect and prime mover for the creation of our society’s original seal.
The Great Debate
For this, and the next several next annual meetings, there evolved a debate and discussion involved retaining or moving oncology training out of the basic OB/GYN residency. I wrote in the January 1972 minutes: “QUESTIONNAIRE REGARDING THE PROPOSED SUBSPECIALTY BOARD: Acting upon the motion passed by the membership at the business meeting this morning the secretary was instructed to initiate a first mailing to all the membership requesting their specific questions of concern. Based upon the returns from this mailing a composite questionnaire will be synthesized with approval of Council, and the second mailing will consist of this composite to all members.” Dr. John Lewis was our second president, followed by Norman Thornton, MD, then Hervy, then John. This sequence of leadership guided us through an often contentious and fairly evenly divided debate: to formally separate (and be a “board” of our own, establish training guidelines) or not to separate, (keep training within the specialty, out of concern that the basic surgical training of generalist OB/GYNs—already often deficient—will be impaired). But that is another story. And all know the outcome.
The Legacy of SGO’s ‘Initiators’
When John turned over his office to me he reminded me that the budget for the office of the secretary-treasurer was $250/year. He handed over the Society documents and correspondence which were entirely contained in an actual shoe box! And he made arrangements to transfer from the Philadelphia bank the total Society assets of $1,852.89! With John’s memorable smile and chuckle, he advised “We better not spend this in just one place!” The initiation fee for new members was $25. And the registration fee for the meetings was $10. All the numbers quoted in this memo are correct! John and Hervy forged a bond that was truly a lifetime “best friend” relationship. And that included their wives Margaret and Barkley, even to this day. Now, both of our “initiators” are gone. For those of us who knew both men and enjoyed our mutual friendships, it was a blessing. And for all of us, our collective debt of gratitude is immeasurable.
Richard C. Boronow, MD, April 2013
Founding member, 1969
SGO President, 1979