John Ultmann believes that cancer center directors “have an obligation” to NCI and other centers to speak up for the National Cancer Program before Congress and the public, as well as within the cancer community.

Ultmann has been doing just that, as director of the Cancer Research Center at Univ. of Chicago for the past 17 years.

Though he officially retired as the center’s director on July 1, Ultmann does not plan to fade out of sight, or, worse, out of earshot.

Ultmann will be staying on as deputy director of the center and will be assisting in the competitive renewal of the center’s core grant. He also will be assisting in education and community affairs and other tasks. He is remaining active in the cancer community as chairman of the American Assn. for Cancer Research Public Education Committee.

“I intend to work two years, then I will do more teaching, patient care, and clinical research,” Ultmann told The Cancer Letter. He also is accepting work as a consultant.

“It’s a great life, when you can do what you want to do,” Ultmann said in reflecting on his professional career, which spans five decades and three continents.

Ultmann was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1925. His family escaped the holocaust in 1939 and settled in New York, where Ultmann graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, and spent a year at Brooklyn College. He graduated from Oberlin College and received his MD from Columbia Univ. He did his internship and residency at New York Hospital, then spent several years in a variety of positions at several New York area hospitals, and became an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia. In 1968 he moved to the Univ. of Chicago, and was named a full professor in 1970. In 1973 he became director of the cancer center, an in the intervening years also has served as associate dean and dean for research.

He has been active in many professional societies, and was president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 1981. He was one of four founders of the Illinois Cancer Council, which was the prototype for the NCI supported consortium cancer centers. He also chaired NCI’s Div. of Cancer Treatment Board of Scientific Counselors from 1976-80, working with then-DCT Director Vincent DeVita. He also served on the Div. of Cancer Prevention & Control BSC.

He also was chairman of the selection committee for the Bristol-Myers Award in cancer research in 1976. His center was also one of the first members of the Assn. of American Cancer Institutes. And, Ultmann was instrumental in the establishment of the National Coalition for Cancer Research and served as its chairman from 1985-1990.

Among his international activities : active in UICC, consultant and advocate for the EORTC, awarded an honorary MD degree from Heidelberg Univ. in 1986, honorary professor of the Cancer Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and an honorary physician at Sydney Hospital, Sydney, Australia. This year, he was awarded an honorary MD degree from Univ. of Vienna, where he might have studied if not for Hitler.

He has published 420 scientific papers, abstracts, editorials, reviews, and chapters in books. He and his wife Ruth, a nurse, have three children, now grown. Two are pediatricians and one works in a hospital.

Richard Schilsky, associate director for the hematology/oncology section, was selected by a search committee to replace Ultmann as the center’s director. As a medical student at Chicago, Schilsky knew Ultmann. Schilsky spent four years at NCI; one year as a clinical associate in the Medicine Branch, then three years working with Bruce Chabner in the Clinical Pharmacology Branch.

Schilsky moved on to position as assistant professor of medicine at Univ. of Missouri (Columbia), then returned to Chicago in 1984 as assistant, then associate professor of medicine. He became head of the hematology/oncology section in 1989.