It was a party 40 years in the making.
Tuesday afternoon, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center celebrated four decades of innovation, research and cures with a block party unhampered by the day’s gloomy weather.
President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland welcomed a buzzing audience by acknowledging that the anniversary celebration was the first time the Hutch had invited its community onto campus.
“We’d like for you to get to know us, but we’d also like to get to know you,” he said, gesturing to the more than 30 booths demonstrating Hutch research and other activities surrounding the speakers’ podium. “We’re here for you, and we’ve been here since Dr. Bill Hutchinson founded Fred Hutch 40 years ago.”
On that day, Fred Hutch opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson, creator of the National Cancer Institute, and Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Forty years later, an estimated 1,000 Fred Hutch faculty, staff, friends, family and other community members converged on the South Lake Union campus for an afternoon of festivities, fun and games, and a science fair.
As Gilliland said, it was also an opportunity to reflect on how far the Hutch has come in those four decades — and how broadly its reach has rippled into the world.
“It started small. We started with a few laboratories, a few hospital beds that were up the hill on First Hill, and that’s where Don Thomas and so many of the investigators that are still here today in essence invented bone marrow transplantation … What an exciting time that must have been,” Gilliland said. “That led to not only a Nobel Prize for Dr. Thomas, one of several we have at the Hutch, but it led to an improvement in the outcome of patients’ lives who have cancer. It led to curative therapies for diseases that had been universally fatal.”
A number of movers and shakers gathered with Gilliland to commemorate the occasion, including former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who was Magnuson’s chief of staff when the Hutch first opened; U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who represents the Hutch’s home district and has served the Greater Seattle Area in Congress since 1989; and Scott Hutchinson, the grandson of Hutch founder Dr. Bill Hutchinson and great-nephew of the baseball great and Hutch namesake, Fred Hutchinson.
Their reflections on the research center’s decades of impact ranged from the personal to the global.
Dicks spoke about Magnuson’s impact on national funding for biomedical research through his work to establish the NCI in 1937. And the late senator’s work along with Dr. Bill Hutchinson’s to establish Fred Hutch had far-reaching impacts in Dicks’ own life: His mother was later treated for cancer at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch’s treatment arm.
Dicks ended by reading a telegram Magnuson had sent to Dr. Bill Hutchinson about his achievements: “'The real winners of course are the American people. People everywhere will benefit from the knowledge and other advancements certain to come soon in the future.’ I just know that the senator would be pleased that we are remembering his work on this and the great work of the Hutchinson family,” Dicks said.
McDermott began his remarks by noting the large chalk letters scrawled on the ground beside the podium: “HIV Cure.” The congressman spoke about his experience as a medical officer in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and seeing the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic in Africa firsthand.
“I’m very proud to be here today,” he said, going on to speak about how gratified he was that research has led to modern treatments for HIV/AIDS — treatments that have “taken [HIV] from a death sentence to a chronic disease.”
Gilliland then introduced Scott Hutchinson, adding, “You’ve got Hutchinson in your DNA — literally — and we’re so grateful to have you here.”
Scott Hutchinson told a story about a momentous turning point in his family’s history. Many don’t know that Dr. Bill Hutchinson, like his brother Fred, was also a passionate and talented baseball player. After his senior year at University of Washington, where he was captain of the baseball team, poised to start medical school at McGill University, Bill Hutchinson received a call from the Pittsburgh Pirates, offering him a starting position.
“He needed to make a choice: Was he going to play baseball, or was he going to become a doctor? Of course, we’re all standing here today because he chose to give up baseball and follow his passion for medicine,” Hutchinson said.
He also reminded the audience about the importance of private support for biomedical research — the reason he and his wife, Amy Hutchinson, helped establish Innovators Network, a group of young professionals who support Fred Hutch through fundraising events and other community activities.
Hutchinson ended by thanking those in the audience who have helped to sustain Fred Hutch over the past 40 years with their time, effort and/or financial support in the early days and those who continue to do so.
“May I remind everybody that 40 years ago, before the doors of the Fred Hutch opened, you made a choice,” he said. “You made a choice to support my grandfather and his peers when your investment was unknown and unproven. Your spirit, combined with my grandfather and Senator Magnuson’s discipline and vision, is what brought us here today.”
Fred Hutch staff writer Sabin Russell contributed to this story.
Rachel Tompa is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. She has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, San Francisco and a certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Tompa.