Medical School Founder Remembered in New Book

A memoir of Dr. Merlin K. DuVal recalls the challenges of creating the state's first medical college from scratch.
Nov. 4, 2009
Reading and book signing by Linda Valdez and Dr. James Dalen
Friday, Nov. 6, 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Arizona Health Sciences Library, 1501 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson
Merlin K. DuVal
Merlin K. DuVal
(Click to enlarge) Cover of "A Doctor's Legacy"
(Click to enlarge) Cover of "A Doctor's Legacy"
(Click to enlarge) Merlin K. DuVal
(Click to enlarge) Merlin K. DuVal

Linda Valdez, an editorial writer and columnist for The Arizona Republic, said she had no idea what to think when Merlin DuVal first called to ask her to write his memoirs.

At the time more than four decades had passed since DuVal shepherded the creation of the first medical school in Arizona. The founding dean of the college had long since retired, and memory of how the rapidly growing facility came to be was beginning to fade.

"But I found the idea appealing," Valdez said.

Valdez pursued the project. Her new book, "A Doctor's Legacy: A Memoir of Merlin K. DuVal, Founding Dean of Arizona's First Medical School," is being distributed by the University of Arizona Press.

"He really was an amazing man," Valdez said. When he graduated from medical school, he was promised a position that would have paid him $200,000 a year after he finished his residency. Instead, he decided to go into teaching and found that he really enjoyed it."

Valdez said DuVal's starting salary at the UA was a fraction of what he could have made in private practice. And in 1964 the UA College of Medicine was only an idea. There were no facilities, no faculty, no money and no idea whether there was any support in the community in the face of opposition coming from Phoenix.

What motivated him, she said, was his sense of how medical education should serve the wider community.

Born into privilege, DuVal exercised his knowledge of medical education and his patrician charm to lobby the school into existence. He then pushed for more women to become students and fostered the MedStart program that has expanded opportunities for minority students to become doctors.

His success at the UA led to a federal appointment as an assistant secretary of health, where he publicly criticized tobacco companies and led the shutdown of the infamous Tuskeegee syphilis study.

Asked what impression DuVal left her with, Valdez said, "One thing that struck me about Monte was that he would look at challenges, at the way things were and he knew what had to be done."

About a year after Valdez began collecting interviews, DuVal died suddenly in Phoenix. He and his wife, Ruth, were about to return to Tucson.

"I had no idea he would pass away so early into the process," Valdez said. "It added a great deal of complications. I was looking forward to working with him in putting the book together, and I missed his input."

DuVal's youngest son, Fred DuVal, currently is a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for the three state universities, which includes the medical school campuses in Tucson and Phoenix.

DuVal said the immediate issue he faces in extending his father's legacy is the possibility of reuniting the College of Medicine with University Physicians Healthcare, the largest physicians group in Tucson, and University Medical Center.

"My father was all about service to the community, and the College of Medicine was sold to the citizens of Arizona on that basis," he said. "That work remains a constant and we are presented with opportunities to fulfill that mission of service everyday in the medical enterprise specifically and in the broader University enterprise as well.

The younger DuVal also said his father "played an early and key role in getting the Phoenix campus started.

"Since 1964, he felt his was unfinished business. I think it gave him untold joy to see it underway while he was still alive. He gave it roots. I hope to give it wings."

A reading and signing by Linda Valdez and Dr. James Dalen, along with appearances by members of the DuVal family, is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 6, 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Arizona Health Sciences Library.

Dalen, a noted cardiologist and former dean of the UA College of Medicine, has written "University Hospitals: Doctors and Patients." The book is an account of the role of university hospitals in the development of medical advances over the last half century.