Doctor who helped make Oklahoma City a medical research leader dies at 89
Oklahoma City — Dr. William Thurman, who was credited with taking medical research in Oklahoma City to the next level, died Friday. He was 89.
Thurman was the third president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, leading it from 1979 to 1997. He had started his career as a pediatric oncologist and had been provost of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center before joining the research foundation.
No memorial service is planned.
Dr. David R. Brown, chairman of the executive committee of the foundation's board of directors, said at the time of Thurman's retirement in 1997 that it was “difficult to imagine OMRF without Bill Thurman,” but that his dedication to the foundation helped it attract a strong researcher to succeed him.
Dr. Stephen Prescott, the foundation's current president, said Thurman presided over an expansion of the institution's cardiovascular research program and recruited researchers studying how the immune system can cause or worsen some disorders and how it might be used to combat cancer. The scientific community had some interest in the immune system in the '80s and '90s, he said, but it wasn't yet clear just how important that field of research would become.
“It was really insightful” for Thurman to recognize the importance of immunology, he said. “That's gone on to be one of our most distinguished programs.”
Prescott didn't join the foundation until after Thurman retired, but said they worked together for several years after Thurman invited him to serve on a scientific advisory board. During that time, he observed Thurman's ability not only to recognize important trends in research but also to drum up funding and keep employees happy.
“He was an incredibly gracious man, intelligent and insightful, but also with great people skills,” he said.
Thurman was hands-on with people working at the foundation, Prescott said. For example, during his tenure, Thurman would invite the student researchers who worked at the foundation during the summer to have lunch at his house every week, he said.
“He was a really charming, warm person,” he said. “He cared about people.”
The foundation already was doing good research in the 1970s, Prescott said, but Thurman recognized that it could be a world-class institution. To reach that goal, Thurman used a combination of recruiting top scientists, inspiring researchers already working there and setting expectations that everyone would be held accountable, he said.
“In many respects, his most enduring achievement was that he gave the institution a different sense of itself, that it could have a global impact,” he said.
Thurman moved to the Seattle area after his retirement but remained involved the Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, according to the foundation. He is survived by his wife, Gabrielle.