“When I was about two or three, I had a little toy stethoscope and started listening to my great grandmother’s chest. My mother, grandmother and the rest of the family thought that was neat. They really wanted me to be a doctor…. [W]hen I said I wanted to be a fireman, I didn’t get anywhere near as much positive reinforcement,” Dr. Richard Hoffman recalled with a smile.
Growing up in Dallas, his first memory of becoming aware of the medical school was “driving into the parking lot of the Edward H. Cary Building in the early 1960s.”
“I had always seen UT Southwestern in positive light,” Dr. Hoffman recalled. “Both of my parents were supportive of the medical school. It started in the 1950s when my father helped raise money for the Dallas Heart Association and later the Texas Heart Association. My parents got to know some of the faculty well, like Dr. Seymour Eisenberg (the first Section Chief in Geriatrics, who died in 1999) and Dr. Jere Mitchell (Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine), both of whom became role models for me.”
After graduating from St. Marks, he landed a summer job as an assistant in one of Dr. Mitchell’s cardiology laboratories. It was there he “started to appreciate the medical research going on all around me.”
Dr. Hoffman graduated with a B.A. in Biology from Stanford in 1971. That September, he enrolled in UT Southwestern.
“My professors included Dr. Seldin, Dr. Brown and Dr. Goldstein. In 1972 and 1973, I worked in Dr. Seldin’s nephrology lab, which is where I first met Dr. Wildenthal, who was a cardiologist at the time. I put all of my professors on pedestals,” he recalled. “And watched over the years as they achieved greatness.”
“A memory that stands out from those days is directing the “senior movie.” We did a game show skit that spoofed Dr. Bruce Fallis, Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Seldin, who allowed us to make a little fun of them.”
“UT Southwestern was top tier,” Dr. Hoffman said. “You could feel it when you were there.”
Dr. Hoffman graduated in May 1975 and accepted a surgical internship at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. “One of my professors was Dr. James “Red” Duke – another graduate of UT Southwestern.” Dr. Duke was in residency in general surgery at Parkland when he helped save the life of wounded Texas Gov. John Connally in 1963.
“I liked surgery but the time demands were severe – up to 115 hours a week,” Dr. Hoffman recalled. So he decided he would serve his country but “in a peaceful, positive way.” The war in Vietnam had just ended. He volunteered for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) where he served from 1976 to 1978, working as a general practitioner in Saguache, Colorado – a town of 600 people.
“At the nearest hospital in Monte Vista which was 35 miles away, there were only four doctors on staff. I was made head of both the infection control and respiratory therapy committees for this small community hospital. We were preparing for hospital accreditation and our protocols came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That introduced me to the CDC, and at the end of my NHSC tour of duty, I signed up for a two-year training program at the CDC called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). I was assigned to work in New Mexico.”
Dr. Hoffman worked on communicable disease and environmental issues as a medical epidemiologist. “My career choice was validated in the eyes of my mother whenever she heard the CDC mentioned on television,” Dr. Hoffman laughed.
“I became fascinated with public health. We worked with many people and institutions in the community, and I very much liked the idea of medical investigation – it’s detective work, looking at the population’s health, not just at the individual level.” He went on to receive his Masters of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1983 and then spent 3 more years with the CDC.
Dr. Hoffman went to work for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 1986 to 2001. His roles included serving as the State Epidemiologist, the Chief Medical Officer and Co-Chair of the Department’s Institutional Review Board.
He recalled a classmate, Dr. Charles Haley, the brother of Robert Haley, MD, Director of the Division of Epidemiology at UT Southwestern. Over the course of their careers, all three men had worked for the CDC and become epidemiologists. “Out of our graduating class of 1975, I think Charles and I were the only ones who did,” Dr. Hoffman added.
Edmund and Adelyn Hoffman, Dr. Hoffman’s parents, served the Foundation through volunteer work and major financial support for decades. “My father joined the Board of Southwestern Medical Foundation and knew many of the leaders of the Foundation as well as the medical school.” In 1999, they received Southwestern Medical Foundation’s highest honor – the Charles Cameron Sprague Community Service Award.
In 2007, 35 years after Dr. Hoffman first met Dr. Wildenthal, they had lunch.
Dr. Wildenthal, at the time UT Southwestern's President, Adelyn Hoffman and Dr. Hoffman sat down “to brainstorm ways our family might support the medical center.”
“My mother wanted to help the school,” Dr. Hoffman explained. “But didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do.”
For years, the Hoffmans had helped fund the work of Dr. Charles Pak, Director of the Center for Mineral Metabolism and Clinical Research. “When [UT Southwestern researchers] discover something, a huge number of people are helped. You’re not just helping a few people in Dallas, you’re helping the whole world. Take Dr. Charles Pak. He makes osteoporosis discoveries that affect every women’s life,” Adelyn Hoffman said in a 1999 interview.
Many new ideas were discussed at the 2007 lunch.
“Initially we wanted to pick a disease for which we could help find a new treatment. We talked about Alzheimer’s and leukemia research.” In the summer of 2006, Dr. Hoffman’s father had died of Alzheimer’s and his brother, Robert, had died of acute myelogenous leukemia.
“I suggested we do something that had to do with epidemiology and Dr. Wildenthal quickly brought up the Dallas Heart Study. When I was a medical student, epidemiology was not a part of the curriculum, so the idea of pairing the power of genetics with the power of epidemiology to change public health – well that was something that seemed pretty interesting and appealing. In addition, my mother had met Dr. Helen Hobbs, who designed the Dallas Heart Study and my father volunteered with the Heart Association for many years.”
“A few years later, Barbara Gilbert became the head nurse caring for my mother. She also worked for Dr. Hobbs on her longitudinal studies, and she and I talked about the study from time to time.” Dr. Hoffman went online to learn about the Dallas Heart Study, and he was impressed by Dr. Hobbs’ work, in part because it was population-based as opposed to clinic- or hospital-based.
“The Hoffman Family Center for Genetics and Epidemiology creates steady, stable funding for UT Southwestern faculty members to do this kind of research, unlike federal funding or grants that may come and go or fluctuate in the level of support.”
“The generous support from Adelyn Hoffman helps us advance population and genetic-based research such as the Dallas Heart Study. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Richard and share where his mother’s gift is making an impact. The fact that this gift supports his field of interest makes it all the more meaningful and inspires the work we are doing,” said Dr. Hobbs.
In 2016, the final installment of the Hoffmans' pledge was completed. “It felt wonderful to send final payment to Southwestern Medical Foundation so they can send it on to the medical center,” Dr. Hoffman said. “My mother would be very pleased by the type of work that will be supported by these resources.”
“My parents have always been generous,” Dr. Hoffman said. “I’m so proud of them for all they’ve done to support the medical center.”
With the funding in place, research has begun. “Let’s do some research to help people,” Dr. Hoffman said with enthusiasm. “Let’s do some science.”
Last year, Dr. Hoffman became a member of the Southwestern Medical Foundation Board of Trustees. “Supporting the Foundation and UT Southwestern has been an important part of our family for decades. I’m thrilled to be able to help.”
“That Richard has chosen to stay involved with the Foundation and further the tremendous Hoffman legacy is especially meaningful,” said Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation.
“The Hoffman family’s gift ensures that population-based research will continue in perpetuity. This research is a critical component and will lead to greater understanding in the important field of public health,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky.
Dr. Hoffman is board certified in General Preventive Medicine and a Fellow in the American College of Epidemiology. He served on the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Committee to the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Colorado School of Public Health and was awarded the University of Colorado's Florence Rena Sabin award in May 2003 in recognition of “his exceptional contributions to the CU-Health Sciences Center and to the health of Coloradans.” Dr. Hoffman lives in Denver where he works as a private consultant in epidemiology.