Eulogies for Waun Ki Hong

​A memorial service for Waun Ki Hong, MD, FAACR, was held on Jan. 12, 2019 in Newport Beach, CA. The memorial speakers included AACR Chief Executive Officer Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), and AACR member Ronald A. DePinho, MD, FAACR, former President of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Read Dr. Foti's eulogy

Read Dr. DePinho's eulogy

Remarks by AACR CEO Margaret Foti

I am deeply honored and humbled to represent the American Association for Cancer Research and its 40,000 members around the world at this Memorial Service for the incomparable Dr. Waun Ki Hong.

First, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the Hong family, especially to Mi Hwa Hong, his wonderful wife and life partner. Their relationship was something special to watch and for everyone to try to emulate.

Dr. Hong was a very hard-working physician-scientist, but he always found time for his beautiful family and would speak frequently to me about how much joy and warm support they brought to his life.

The family’s loss is also our loss. We mourn along with them because over the years we have become a special part of the Ki Hong Extended Family. And what a huge Superfamily it is! It stretches far and wide to the corners of the globe, and we are all the better for having been a part of his family.

The world was made a better place with Ki Hong in it, and we are all devastated at the loss of Ki to our lives.

The word of Ki’s death on the night of January 2 has shocked the national and international cancer community. Nothing could have prepared us for his sudden death since, on the surface, he was in great shape and was sharp, active, and athletic.

In fact, just last September, when I was invited to stay at his home, a time together that has always been very special for me, he brought me to his favorite gym to teach me how to use the equipment. I was already exhausted from our long walk around the complex where he and Mi Hwa live. We exercised on most of the machines in the gym, and I struggled to keep up with him during our workout. Nonetheless, he still complimented mewhich was so typical of Ki’s encouraging style as a mentor! He said: “Margie, you did a great job on the machines. You just need more time in the gym!”

So much has already been said about Ki Hong, but I will give my personal perspective. In our hearts and minds, Ki Hong was our herostrong, determined, effective, and, of course, invincible. And then, in a split second, he was taken from us. Today, this large group of family, friends, colleagues, and mentees have dropped everything in their daily lives, for there was nothing more important than to be here to honor and celebrate our hero’s extraordinary life.

We are here because we truly loved, respected, and revered Ki for all that he was as a person and a professional. We had the amazing privilege of knowing him, working side-by-side with him, learning from him, and seeing him in action, whether it be the serious Kiwho was always very concerned about the outcome of his research for the benefit of patients, or about his friends who may be having health problems or professional difficultiesor the fun-loving Ki, who was so happy to be at a baseball game especially if the Red Sox were winning, to engage in tender conversations with his grandchildren, to be with Mi Hwa and me at Nordstrom’s Department Store laughing at us while we selected makeup to make us look younger, to play a great tennis game with John Mendelsohn (and win, of course), or to just relax with a glass of good wine.

Ki and I had long talks about how to better lead the AACR and how to maintain its reputation as the cancer research organization at the cutting edge of science, and I was always so happy to hear him say: “Margie, the AACR is my organization!”

I was privileged to know Ki professionally and personally for almost 30 years, during which time I observed firsthand his remarkable qualities. To fully and accurately describe the essence of this special man would take a very long time as he was altogether brilliant, caring, multifaceted, complex, intense, sensitive, and therefore quite intriguing in so many ways. One thing was for surewe all wanted to be like Ki and to impress him. To get his stamp of approval would be the “prize,” and to do so we would try to work harder than he did, and try to get up earlier than he did, all of which was of course completely impossible to achieve.

Ki Hong was an eminent physician-scientist of international renown who was, and will always be, viewed as an iconic figure in the field of oncology, and whose passion and constant drive for improving the care of cancer patients through innovative cancer research are really unparalleled.

During his stunning career, he personally made and stimulated major advances against cancer. He was relentless in his pursuit of excellence in himself and in others. He was a master of cancer science and medicine; an innovator in cancer chemoprevention; an outstanding translational cancer researcher; an inspirational mentor, with hundreds of now successful former mentees to show for it; and a visionary leader in cancer research at the national and international level.

He published about 700 peer-reviewed articles in the literature, more than a dozen of which were in the New England Journal of Medicine, and he was the recipient of many awards and honors for meritorious science. He also edited 11 major books and was on the Editorial Boards of 17 scientific journals. He has been described repeatedly and accurately as a trailblazer, a highly productive “big picture” kind of thinker, and a pioneer in the cancer field.

His colleagues and close personal friends have also seen and experienced the personal side of Ki Hongan individual of enormous integrity and human kindness; a highly competitive, yet a selfless and humble person; a charismatic, even magnetic personality whose presence in a room was always noticed; and a caring person who spent a significant part of his life helping others to achieve their own goals, especially the young physicians and scientists for whom he was the quintessential role model.

And, while in the midst of all his professional activities, he always took the time to counsel usboth men and women (yes, he was a major advocate of women in oncology)through our challenges in life, whether these be family or health issues or work problems. How is it possible that all that giving was embodied in one person? He was just amazing, that’s all!

I feel so blessed to have been able to call him my dear colleague, mentor, friend, and to be a member of his family.

Ki always felt a keen responsibility to do something important with his life and intellect. To leave something behind, i.e., his legacy, was a driving force of his personality. When one reads about his beginnings, you can truly appreciate what motivated his personal and professional goals.

I will describe a few of his remarkable scientific accomplishments:

  • Ki developed a highly innovative, groundbreaking approach to the treatment of laryngeal cancer that made it possible for patients to keep their larynxes and retain their ability to speak and swallow. He did this by launching a large randomized clinical trial in 1985, along with Dr. Gregory Wolf, that compared two treatments: chemotherapy followed by radiation, or surgery alone.

    This trial showed that the survival rates using these two approaches were the same and that the chemotherapy/radiotherapy combination would bring a better quality of life to a large cohort of these patients, which was of course Ki’s goal. This important work, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, changed the way patients with this type of cancer were treated. And, as those of you in the cancer field know, it remains the standard of care today and serves as a model for organ preservation in many other cancer types. What an amazing breakthrough!

  • Ki was also a pioneer in the field of cancer prevention. Through his novel research in head and neck cancer, he helped establish the concept of chemoprevention as a mechanism for preventing cancer in high-risk patients. This was really the beginning of what is now being called “cancer interception,” that is, those efforts to intervene at the precancer stage or early stage of cancer to maximize survival in these patients. Nobel Laureate Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn called attention to the importance of this concept in an article in the AACR journal, Cancer Prevention Research, when Dr. Scott Lippman (a Ki Hong mentee) was Editor-in-Chief of the journal.

  • Recently, Ki was very involved in reviewing an increasing number of cancer interception grants for both the AACR and Stand Up To Cancer. Now, cancer interception is viewed as a promising approach to preventing more cancers and to curing patients with early disease who might otherwise have progressed and not survived. In addition, the area of cancer interception has inspired the current immunotherapy clinical trials that are having a positive impact in the clinic for even metastatic cancer patients.

  • And, more recently, Ki was the main architect and principal investigator in opening a new chapter in precision cancer medicine by conceptualizing the design of the seminal BATTLE Clinical Trial (“Biomarker Integrated Approaches of Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer Elimination”). He brought together an impressive team of pathologists, radiologists, oncologists, surgeons, and basic scientists to implement a precision-guided approach to lung cancer treatment, using biomarkers to guide treatment decisions. This trial was a forerunner of so many of today’s master protocolssuch as Lung-MAP, NCI-MATCH, and other state-of-the-art clinical trialsand it helped inform the development of other novel targeted therapies for cancer. 

    The AACR was thrilled that the exciting results of the innovative BATTLE team science study would be published in the first issue of our new scientific journal, Cancer Discovery, in 2011. It was very meaningful to know that Ki, with the approval of his co-authors (many of whom are here today) had done this to help jump-start our new journal.

    The number of citations to this article continues to this day to be absolutely huge, and we know that these early and current citations have contributed in a very major way to this journal becoming one of the most highly cited cancer journals in the field, now far exceeding in impact factor of its competitor at the time, Cancer Cell. We will always be grateful to Ki and the coauthors of this team science study for believing in the future success of our new publication.

As you can discern from these brief highlights of his truly remarkable research, Ki was always at the forefront of the field. His work positively impacted the lives of patients with many types of cancer, improved their treatment and survival, and provided them with new hope. As you have heard from Dr. DePinho, Ki helped in a very significant way to establish MD Anderson as arguably one of the most important clinical and translational cancer research and care centers in the world.

Ki’s dedication to advancing progress against cancer extended far beyond his own spectacular research. His passionate commitment to mentoring clinical and postdoctoral fellows from the United States and around the world, including more than 60 from his home country of South Korea, was legendary.

I am so glad that his close colleagues from South Korea could be here today to honor and celebrate his life and contributions to oncology. Ki was very proud of this Korean heritage. He and I spent a wonderful time in Seoul just last November, where we held the first AACR-Korean Cancer Association Joint Conference on “Precision Medicine in Solid Tumors.” Ki gave a brilliant Opening Keynote Address on “Precision Medicine in Lung Cancer: Opportunities and Challenges.” He was so proud that this conference drew almost 1,100 investigators from 18 countries and that this would be the beginning of a close working collaboration between cancer experts in the AACR and the KCA.

Ki’s long-term oversight of the careers of young basic researchers and physician-scientists over several generationsscientists who are now leaders in their own fieldsis a testament to the indelible mark that he has left on the cancer workforce. He enjoyed mentoring and supporting researchers early in their careers to help them achieve their own successes, always guiding and acting as a role model, but never taking credit for their work.

He would often use a sports analogy to tell them: “You have to get points on the scoreboard,” those points representing meeting meaningful goals and milestones in one’s career.  He was also a believer in passing the ball to young investigators so that they could make the shots themselves! And he would tell them that to survive in academia, you must have passion, resilience, perseverance, and patiencetraits that he himself embodied in spades! These were good lessons for all of us to try to emulate in life!

It is so good that many of the fortunate, loyal, and now highly successful scientists were able to be here today to express condolences, for through their close relationship with Ki Hong, they collectively signify the hope and promise for the future of cancer research.

Ki has also given a lot of guidance to various outside organizations. He was especially proud to be appointed by Dr. Phil Sharp over 10 years ago to be on the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Scientific Advisory Committee and was even more active as a reviewer of grant applications during the last four years of his retirement from full-time employment at MD Anderson. Our colleagues at SU2C will be honoring his role in this project at the Annual SU2C Summit taking place later this month in Santa Monica.

The AACR’s Scientific Review and Grants Administration staff members, as well as so many other AACR staff members who have worked closely with Ki over the years, are so sad about the loss of Ki as he always interacted with them warmly on connection with his scientific and administrative responsibilities.

I have personally heard from many of Ki’s mentees and colleagues during the past few days about the profound impact that Ki has had on their careers. The comments that I’ve received emphasize just how highly regarded he was as a colleague, mentor, and role model. Here are just a few of the many messages I received about Ki:

  • Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, the current AACR President, wrote, “I am shocked and saddened by the loss of Dr. Hong. Ki was a mentor and friend. I never asked him for mentorship; he offered it so willingly to everyone. He was also an amazing researcher and leader. He cared about patients, but also about the next generation of cancer fighters. We have lost a giant in cancer research. He will be missed by our entire community.”

  • Dr. Tom Curran, Past President of the AACR, wrote, “I had the great honor of working closely with Ki while he served as AACR President-Elect during my term as President. The indelible impression he made was that, despite his numerous accomplishments and responsibilities, he maintained the most positive, upbeat, and energetic demeaner. His greetings were always warm and heartfelt, and he saw the upside of any situation. Ki was the embodiment of the aphorism 'His glass was always half-full.' His passion for teaching the next generation and selflessly promoting the careers of others made him very unique. Every time I think of Ki, I am reminded of how his happy smile lit up the room.”

  • And Dr. Lillian Siu, AACR Board Member, wrote, “This news is really shocking and sad; my deepest condolences to Ki's family and loved ones. He was a giant in the cancer field, but yet so personable and kind to each one of us who has learned so much from his wisdom and experience. He will be missed deeply.”

And the articles published recently in The Cancer Letter about Ki Hong from the close colleagues he trained and with whom he interacted over the years were also very poignant. We agree with Dr. Fadlo Khuri that Ki Hong was the one and only “Mentor Magnificus”!

For your perusal, special messages about Ki from friends and colleagues have been posted on the AACR website. I hope you will read them as they are a collective demonstration of the enormous impact that Ki had on the lives of so many!

Ki’s personal attributes touched so many people. These special qualities are at the center of my fond memories of Ki. Ki was in our offices for a meeting a few years back, and I took the opportunity to talk with him about one of my dearest friends who had just been hospitalized at UPenn Hospital with metastatic lung cancer. Ki immediately made the decision to cancel his departure and came to the hospital with me to examine her and talk with the oncologists there. This kind gesture to a very sick woman whom he had never met was so typical of Ki.

Ki gave generously of his time to intervene in the care of the mother of one of our television anchors in Philadelphia – Nydia Han. Nydia’s mother lived in Korea, and Ki made sure to call and discuss her case with local oncologists. Years later, although Nydia’s mother ultimately lost her battle with lung cancer, Nydia still talks about Ki’s kind intervention when she is speaking publicly about cancer research and Ki’s gold standard of cancer care and empathy for cancer patients.

And Ki also intervened when my sister was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. He took the time to speak with my sister and her husband about her care and prognosis. Fortunately, 21 years after her diagnosis, my sister is still cancer free!

Even when I had back surgery two years ago, he was on the phone checking on the surgeon, conferring with colleagues in his network of experts, and asking about my recuperation. All of us have stories like this, don’t we?

Clearly, Ki’s strong sense of responsibility to help people was a hallmark of the integrity and compassion of this wonderful person.

During his long career, Ki served on numerous major national science and policy committees—including for the U.S. FDA, National Cancer Institute, National Cancer Advisory Board, and President’s Cancer Panel, as well as several international scientific committees.

For the AACR specifically, he gave 36 years of outstanding service as a valued member. During that period, he occupied a number of important positions of leadership, including serving as a member of the AACR Board of Directors from 1996 to 1999, then as our distinguished AACR President-Elect (2000-2001), AACR President from 2001 to 2002, and AACR Past President (2002-2003). He was very proud to have been elected President by international cancer research members of the AACR to such a strong cancer science organization like the AACR. He wrote in one Korean journal that it was very meaningful for him to be the first Asian-American President of the AACR. Thus far, no Asian-American has followed him in this capacity.

Among his many other AACR posts, he served as Program Chair of the 1999 AACR Annual Meeting and participated in more than 25 AACR committees, task forces, and scientific working groups. He was also on the Editorial Boards of several AACR journals, including positions as Deputy Editor and Senior Editor of Clinical Cancer Research.

During his distinguished tenure as AACR President, Ki was influential in expanding AACR’s international membership and played a major role in promoting multidisciplinary translational cancer research. He also worked diligently to strengthen the field of cancer prevention, especially precision cancer prevention, and established the AACR Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Meeting Series, serving as the Founding Chair of the inaugural meeting in 2002.

Ki has been recognized throughout his career for his outstanding contributions to cancer research with many awards and prizes, including several prestigious awards from the AACR (i.e., the AACR-Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research; the AACR Joseph H. Burchenal Award; the AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award; and most recently the AACR Margaret Foti Award for Leadership and Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research.

Ki Hong also received the Ho-Am Prize in Medicine from the Samsung Foundation in Korea; the American Cancer Society Professorship and the ACS Medal of Honor for Clinical Research, the David A. Karnofsky Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology; and was elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine. 

Foremost among the recognitions from the AACR were his induction into the Inaugural Class of Fellows of the AACR Academy in 2013, and most recently and best of all: the establishment in 2016 of the AACR Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Translational and Clinical Cancer Research. This coveted award is given each year to a young investigator who has conducted significant translational or clinical cancer research anywhere in the world.

Ki was extremely proud that the AACR had established a scientific merit award in his name, during his lifetime and in perpetuity, as this had never been done before in the 112-year history of our organization. He knew that this was really a big deal, and he was looking forward to seeing these young recipients thrive through the opportunities that his named award afforded them.

Because of the generosity of Dr. Ed Bosarge, a close personal friend of Ki, there will be a special annual Bosarge Family Foundation-Waun Ki Hong Scholar Award for Regenerative Medicine to be given for the first time in July 2019 to a young investigator. Sadly, Ki will not be here to enjoy the start of this new program that he wanted very much to be implemented.

Characteristically, Ki was a perfectionist and was always on top of things until the end of his life! Just a couple of days before he died, on December 28, Ki wrote to one of my AACR colleagues, urging us to step up our game and do a better job of marketing the availability of the new Bosarge-Hong Scholar Award for Regenerative Medicine by tweeting about it more through social media!  I also received an email from him around that timeon December 29. Even though he did not feel so well then, he was still pushing for excellence.

In closing, I want to quote the words of a close colleague and friend in cancer prevention research, Dr. David Alberts, because his sentiments are ours as well:

“The news of the passing of Ki exploded in my head. For me, the world without Ki makes no sense. For me, Ki was bigger than life in all the right ways. I will carry his friendship and learnings deep inside me for the rest of my life.”

I too feel a tremendous loss in not having Ki by my side. My life has been enriched by my relationship with him. I will miss his sage advice; his warm, caring smile; his distinctive voice; and the particular way he would say my name.

He was a great friend and is irreplaceable! To honor his life and memory, I and the AACR staff pledge to work even harder to help accelerate the prevention and cure of cancer!

The extraordinary legacy of Dr. Waun Ki Hong will live on forever in the historical evolution of cancer research and also in our hearts!

We celebrate his unique, substantial contributions to humanity and will observe over time how his intellectual gifts and his concern for others will have a positive effect on the contributions of future generations of cancer scientists and physicians in the field.

We love and celebrate you, Ki. It is an understatement to say that we will miss you. We will never forget you and your amazing impact on our lives!

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Remarks by AACR Member Ronald A. DePinho

Good morning. It is a tremendous honor for me to stand here before you today, on behalf of thousands of colleagues and friends at MD Anderson Cancer Center, to honor and pay tribute to our good friend Dr. Waun Ki Hong. Ki was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, a caring physician and gifted researcher, a respected servant leader and dedicated mentor, and a beloved friend and admired colleague and honestly, just a really good person. Dr. Hong changed the way we think about cancer and he forever changed the way we now prevent and treat it. His army of trainees and the impactful institution he helped to build at MD Anderson will continue to advance his life’s work to end cancer.

Today, the MD Anderson family expresses our deepest gratitude and condolences to the love of his life, Mi Hwa, and to his family who always supported his relentless efforts to reduce cancer suffering for other families around the world. The nation and the world are indebted to him and to you, Mi Hwa, and the entire Hong family.

Ki’s life story is a remarkable testament to the power of love, service, courage, and perseverance. The LOVE of an older brother who provided mentorship in life and in medicine while growing up during the Korean War. A call to SERVICE as a soldier in the Vietnam War and later his SERVICE to cancer community. His COURAGE to come to America to pursue medical training with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket and a pregnant wife in tow. And, his PERSEVERANCE which manifested in so many ways including early challenges in landing a residency position which he ultimately secured at the Boston VA. There, his exposure to patients suffering from cancer would shape a lifelong interest in oncology. Ki and I talked about these early experiences which were shared by my immigrant father who also landed in the Bronx where they both struggled to navigate a new culture and a new language. And yet, through love, service, courage and perseverance, and perhaps a bit of luck (which never hurts), Ki found his way and discovered opportunity, hope, optimism and a commitment and devotion to help others.

Following his prestigious oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Ki returned to the Boston VA to be Chief of Medical Oncology. There he was driven, not only to extend the lives of cancer patients, but also improve their quality of life. One of his earliest contributions to the field was the practice changing advance of preserving the voice box for patients afflicted with laryngeal cancer—this would be the first of many waves of innovation built on a deep foundation to help others.

In 1984, Ki moved to MD Anderson where, together with his partner and cancer giant John Mendelsohn, transformed Anderson into the world’s most impactful institution for cancer care and cancer science. I am 100% sure that Ki and John are already playing tennis in heaven—hopefully they aren’t being too competitive! Together, under their inspired leadership, they fostered an environment of collaboration, enabling the development of multi-disciplinary care of the patient. This new care paradigm would elevate MD Anderson to the leading cancer care hospital in the world, serving as a beacon of hope for cancer patients everywhere. A remarkable quality of Ki was his compassion—despite his many responsibilities, he was never too busy to respond to a call for help from a patient, often within hours, sometimes within minutes. He always placed patients first. He was a healer.

Beyond his clinical contributions, Ki had an equally profound impact on basic and clinical research at MD Anderson. Long before it became fashionable, he championed translational research to speed the application of discovery. He would constantly remind us all that we must break down siloes and that the enemy is cancer. This culture of collaboration, together with his determination, resulted in the largest number of SPORE grants in the nation, being ranked number one in NCI grants, and the creation of the first department for Phase 1 studies and the first department for Genomic Medicine. His division of Cancer Medicine would grow to 17 departments, equivalent in size to some of the largest NCI cancer centers.

Recognizing the importance of clinical research in patient care, he became the architect for the world’s largest clinical trials engine in cancer which, today, at MD Anderson is responsible for leading the trials of one in three FDA approvals. Perhaps though the best example of inspiring multi-disciplinary collaborations for the benefit of the patient is the celebrated BATTLE trial—a trial where patients were assigned to treatments based on their tumor profile. This unprecedented trial was considered to be impossible at the time as it required the concerted and timely efforts of diverse groups working towards a common goal. He was our general in this battle and its success further catalyzed the field to embrace personalized cancer therapy as a standard of care.

During his tenure at MD Anderson, Ki led his own vibrant research program that produced hundreds of publications. As a founding father of the field of chemoprevention, he recognized the need to identify and treat those individuals who are at high risk of cancer. His own work demonstrated that high-dose retinoic acid can reverse oral premalignant lesions and prevent the development of a second wave of primary tumors. As a result, many will never know the pain and suffering of cancer thanks to his pioneering work.

Despite his many seminal contributions that shaped modern cancer medicine, Ki was most fulfilled professionally as a mentor and cheerleader. Ki was truly a servant leader. He was very proud of his premier oncology fellowship program which trained a generation of oncologists, many of whom are here today and rose to leadership positions at MD Anderson and across the world. While he received many awards, Ki was most proud of the AACR award named in his honor, which is awarded to an outstanding young cancer researcher.

On a personal note, he was a great mentor to me, he convinced me to join MD Anderson as the fourth president of the institution’s history (the greatest privilege of my life) and was a great supporter of the cancer moonshot—an initiative that was only possible due to the collaborative culture he created and nurtured over the decades. For me and for many others, in times of challenge, he would encourage us to remain hopeful and persevere. But, in times of hubris, he would remind us of the urgency of our lifesaving work for the patient.

In the wake of his passing, many leaders expressed their respect and admiration for his contributions to the cancer field. There are several special individuals from our institution and our nation that shared their reflections on Ki. I would like to share a few excerpts of those statements with you now:

  • Peter Pisters, president of MD Anderson, writes: “Waun Ki Hong's pioneering spirit has left an indelible mark, on all of us at MD Anderson and everyone committed to the global fight against cancer. He leaves a powerful legacy of truly practice-changing clinical research that has brought new hope to cancer patients and their loved ones around the world. Ki's legacy lives on through the countless young scientists and clinicians whose careers have benefited from his thoughtful mentorship. Led by his example, they have applied their knowledge and skills to advance clinical competency and excellence in patient care through the guiding principles of his extraordinary career: hard work, team science, academic focus, mentorship, respect, pride, innovation, discovery, collaboration, generosity and integrity. I personally am grateful to have been among those fortunate to call him a friend and colleague. His memory will serve as a catalyst in driving our collective progress toward Making Cancer History.”
  • James Milliken, chancellor, of The University of Texas, conveyed: “Waun Ki Hong’s ground-breaking clinical trials that led to less-invasive and more effective cancer treatments alone would have secured his legacy. But he was just as passionately dedicated to mentoring young clinicians, so that they could learn first-hand about the importance of pushing the bounds of science while also improving the quality of life for patients. The UT System joins MD Anderson and the entire community of cancer researchers and clinicians in mourning the loss of an exceptional scientist and a remarkable man. We take heart, though, in knowing that Dr. Hong’s spirit of innovation and service will continue to inspire the next generation of oncologists.”
  • Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute, writes: “The National Cancer Institute is saddened by the loss of our respected colleague and trusted friend. He will be remembered for his contributions to cancer research, which changed clinical practice and continue to save and improve countless lives. He will also be remembered for his strong leadership at AACR, ASCO, and MD Anderson Cancer Center, as well as his support for the National Cancer Institute. Ki gave generously of his time and expertise, and the nation benefited from his service on numerous NCI advisory boards. Ki truly lived the words of the Physician’s Oath: May you long experience the joy of healing those who seek your help. Ki set an example for us all, and leaves behind a rich legacy of healing. Our friend will be greatly missed.”
  • Kevin McCarthy, Leader, US House of Representatives, writes: “To the Friends and Family of Dr. Hong: I wish to express my deepest condolences upon hearing of the passing of Dr. Waun Ki Hong. Dr. Hong's life was one replete with service to a greater good; from his time spent as a flight surgeon during the Vietnam War, his mentorship as Chief of Medical Oncology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and of course his seminal work in oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Hong's legacy to humanity will live on in the hearts of all those he has touched.
    Those lucky enough to have known Dr. Hong praise him for his brilliant work, innovative research, rigorous mentorship, and his unrelenting compassion towards everyone he knew. His ability to bring people together towards the common purpose of eradicating cancer serves as a model of selflessness for our society, and his journey of immigrating to the United States and becoming a world renowned doctor truly embodies the American dream. May you find comfort in knowing that countless lives will continue to be saved due to his unparalleled contributions to cancer research and decades of service to his patients, and our nation owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Hong, and extends our thoughts and prayers to the Hong family.”
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement: "With the passing of Dr. Waun Ki Hong, the nation has lost one of our most outstanding and tireless champions in the fight to wipe out the scourge of cancer. His passing is a great loss for the medical community and for all who were blessed to know his great kindness, generosity and humanity. Dr. Hong was a trailblazer and change-maker, whose pioneering research illuminated new treatment and prevention innovations that have saved lives and revolutionized the field of medicine. His firm commitment to compassionate, patient-centric care represented a shining beacon of hope for countless cancer patients and their families, dramatically improving quality of life and transforming standards of care.
    Dr. Hong was as generous as he was brilliant. He nurtured careers just as he nurtured ideas, and his commitment to mentorship inspired an entire generation of oncologists, who have gone on to lead the fight against cancer. He understood that we all have a responsibility to help those in need, and devoted countless hours of service to local and national organizations, even as he treated patients, conducted research, trained students, served on editorial boards and directed care centers. The Congress and the Country are grateful for Dr. Hong’s invaluable contributions to medicine, to the health of the American people and to our nation. May it be a comfort to Dr. Hong’s loved ones that so many grieve with and pray for them at this sad time.”
  • And, finally, Houston’s Mayor, Sylvester Turner, issued a proclamation declaring January 3, 2019 as Dr. Waun Ki Hong day in the City of Houston.

On a personal level, Ki and I were very close—we shared good wine and family stories. We shared a passion for science, healing, and mentoring … in those conversations, Ki would always draw analogies to baseball … he would refer to the trainees as the ‘farm team’ and star faculty as ‘franchise players’ … when we talked about the miracle of the American dream, he would equate that to winning the world series … we both shared a love for baseball … but … we had one sharp disagreement … he loved his Boston Red Sox and I was a diehard Yankees fan … on separate occasions, we had the honor of throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park. However, instead of wearing a Red Sox cap, I donned a Dana-Farber cap. He laughed and respected my decision nevertheless … so today Ki, I show my deep admiration and respect for you in a way that would bring joy to your heart by wearing this Red Sox cap.  I miss those moments with you and I will forever cherish our loving friendship. Ki, all of us wish we could now tell you how much we love you, … how much we respect you, … how you are our ultimate MVP … I’m certain that your response would be to tell us to get back on the field, be good team players, and put some runs on the board for our patients.

Thank you Ki for the gift of your friendship and for your contributions to humanity. You will be missed.

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