As a young boy, Vincent DeVita dissected frogs on the front steps of his parents' house in Yonkers. In the eyes of his encouraging mother, he was already a budding physician fascinated by the internal complications of life.
"My mother always said I'd be a doctor. Maybe seeing me dissecting frogs convinced her, but I never doubted it myself for one day," Vincent DeVita, Jr., MD, said over coffee in the light-filled high-rise apartment he keeps in Manhattan. The large windows offer panoramic views of the Hudson and the massive sweeping city below.
"I bought this place at the end of August in 2001," he said, gazing out toward downtown. The somber implication of what happened at the World Trade Center just days later briefly hung in the air.
Then he added, "It's walking distance to the opera," a great convenience for someone who has been known to attend as many as four opera performances over a single weekend.
Dr. DeVita speaks with a courtly, inward voice that belies the sense of power behind the man. He has served as director of the National Cancer Institute (1980 to 1988) and director of the Yale Cancer Center (1993 to 2003), where he is currently chair of the advisory board.
Dr. DeVita's remarkable career began across the Mason-Dixon line at William & Marya Southern culture shock for the city-smart, fast-talking New Yorkerwhere he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. He went on to George Washington University School of Medicine where, in 1961, he was awarded his MD degree with distinction.
Over the following decades, particularly at NCI and Yale, Dr. DeVita developed an instinct to fight back against critics and naysayers, who, in his mind, were entrenched in cancer dogma, slowing the pace of progress.