Franklin D. Roosevelt’s passing mourned at Kaiser shipyard

posted on October 14, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered a stroke and died while on a vacation in

Franklin D. Roosevelt's horse-drawn casket proceeds down Pennsylvania Avenue during his funeral procession, 4/14/1945. Photo courtesy Library of Congress. Click on arrow to play audio.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s horse-drawn casket proceeds down Pennsylvania Avenue during his funeral procession, 4/14/1945. Photo courtesy Library of Congress. Click on arrow to play audio.

Warm Springs, Georgia.

Two days later, the S.S. Bradford Island, a tanker, was launched from the Kaiser Swan Island (Portland, Ore.) shipyard before a somber audience.

A bugler mournfully played taps. The master of ceremonies asked the shipyard flag be lowered to half-staff, then he delivered a brief elegy to the popular fallen president.

Roosevelt had visited the Vancouver (Wash.) Kaiser shipyard on September 23, 1942 on a secret trip to review Home Front production, and was a strong supporter of the Kaiser shipyards and workers.

This audio clip comes to us from an archival set of master recordings on glass disks, capturing the gravity and loss of a community that had suffered much in the past years:

“By the proclamation of Harry S. Truman, president of the United States, this is a day of national mourning for the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt…

“We have lost a great leader and a true friend. We mourn with the other people of the world who have also sustained this loss…

“There is perhaps a no more fitting way to commemorate his passing from us as a mortal being than the launching of this ship. For although death has come to Mr. Roosevelt, it came near the hour of victory towards which he led us, and the sturdiness of his dauntless spirit and faith is with us.”


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Breast cancer isn’t just a woman’s issue

posted on October 8, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Kaiser Permanente physician Monte Gregg Steadman (1921-2010) enjoyed a prestigious career as an outstanding head and neck surgeon and teacher. Throughout this conventional career, he also struggled against conformity, militarism, and prejudice in many ways, and made his mark as a committed humanitarian as well.


“Breast cancer isn’t just a woman’s issue” poster, 2005

For a former military physician and athletic male who had played football at UCLA, perhaps being tackled by a potentially fatal disease revealed his bravery best. In 1966, Steadman was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy, which he wryly noted “Ended his chance to be a world-class handball champion.”

This 2005 poster featuring Dr. Steadman was a stunning public education message about the disease few men think will affect them; that warning still rings true.

Confronting and overcoming obstacles

In 1954, when he was appointed chief of Head and Neck Surgery at the new Kaiser Permanente hospital on Geary Street in San Francisco, he was denied membership in the SF County Medical Society because he worked at KP. “It was felt at the time that we were a threat to private practice,” he later said.

In 1969, he met and mentored a young plastic surgery resident at Stanford Medical Center, Dr. Robert Pearl, now the executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group. TPMG’s 8,000 physicians serve KP in all of Northern California. Steadman retired from Kaiser in 1982.

An item in the December, 1959 staff newsletter KP Reporter described another way in which he defied conventional norms:

Drs. Monte Steadman and John E. Hodgekiss came down from San Francisco to help us out in ENT clinic. Dr. Steadman’s method of transportation fascinated us to no end as he arrived on his dashing motorcycle equipped with crash helmet and suede jacket. Behind him rode his briefcase and necessary charts, neatly tied to the seat with nylon cord. Ah, how wonderful it is to be young!

Dr. Steadman was equally outspoken about social injustice. In 1962 his strong anti-war beliefs drew him and two other men to sail into an atomic test zone off Johnson Island in the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to stop the test and draw international attention to nuclear disarmament.

The following year a KP Reporter article described further his commitment to social change:

Dr. Monte Steadman at KP SF, KP Reporter May 1963.

Dr. Monte Steadman at KP SF, KP Reporter, 1963.

Dr. Monte Steadman, of ENT at Geary, appeared on TV station KQED recently. As a speaker on the program “Dissent,” he urged society to reject force and violence whose use we freely condemn in our enemies. He praised the Negroes of the South who, with their Northern supporters, are resisting injustice without retaliating in kind for the mindless violence done to them.

We salute the fearless physicians like Dr. Steadman who have contributed to the mission of Kaiser Permanente, which exists to “provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.”

Kaiser Permanente continues to be a leader in tackling breast cancer, especially early detection. In 2012 the National Committee for Quality Assurance reported that KP breast cancer screening rates for women were the best among health care providers in all the regions KP served.


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Kaiser Permanente Medical Pioneer Morris F. Collen, MD, Passes at Age 100

posted on September 29, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer



Dr. Morris Collen enjoying the Pacific Ocean aboard the “Flying Sorceress” 1957.

Dr. Morris Collen passed away Saturday night at the age of 100; the official Kaiser Permanente obituary is posted here.

Dr. Collen – Morrie, to us - was a treasure in Kaiser Permanente’s mission-driven history. He was our last living link to the origins of our health plan, from the days before it even opened to the public in 1945.

Dr. Sidney Garfield recruited Morrie to be chief of medicine for the industrial health care program he was directing for workers in the Kaiser Richmond (Calif.) shipyards in July 1942. It was a trial by fire. Dr. Collen recalled: “It was all trauma. At those shipyards, they all had accidents. People were getting run over by trucks. They were falling off the ships. Everybody we saw had injuries.”


Dr. Morris Collen with Surgeon General William Stewart, M.D., at multiphasic lab visit, October 1966.

Dr. Collen just rolled up his sleeves and began to save lives. He saved lives by pioneering the treatment of pneumonia with penicillin, he saved lives by applying efficient medical diagnostic processes to hard-working longshoremen, he saved lives by using then-new mainframe computers to automate the analysis of those “multiphasic examinations.”

The man created entire departments within Kaiser Permanente and pioneered whole fields of medicine. Yet he was always accessible when we had a visiting delegation who wanted to meet him. He’d hold court, nursing a beer and telling long stories about being Henry J. Kaiser’s personal physician or running a hospital during the tough years the American Medical Association shunned us, enchanting a roomful of young physicians.

When Dr. Collen moved on from his position as physician-in-chief at KP San Francisco hospital, the doctors and staff put together a goodbye scrapbook for him. One item was a poem, “On Top of Old Geary” to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey.” It included the following lines:

With gentle persuasion
He bindeth our heart
And keeps our institution
From falling apart…

So listen dear Morrie
It’s you we sing of
With great admiration
And enduring love.

We couldn’t have said it better. He was dedicated, kind, and gracious. We will miss him very much.

An excellent resource for learning more about Dr. Collen’s history with Kaiser Permanente is his 1986 U.C. Berkeley Regional Oral History Office interview, as well as this interview on establishing the Division of Research and Collen’s own research into medical informatics.

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Shhhh! Franklin D. Roosevelt visits Kaiser Shipyard

posted on September 23, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

In late summer of 1942 president Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a “stealth” coast-to-coast tour of wartime America. The trip was to

[l to r] Oregon Governor Charles Sprague, Henry J. Kaiser, Edgar F. Kaiser, Franklin D. Roosevelt; 9/23/1942

Watching the launch of the S.S. Joseph N. Teal – [l to r] Oregon Governor Charles Sprague, Henry J. Kaiser, Edgar F. Kaiser, Franklin D. Roosevelt; 9/23/1942

be entirely off the record, with no press coverage until he’d returned to Washington, D.C. He departed by train September 17, and along the way he inspected tank factories in Michigan and ammunition plants in Minnesota.

On September 23, 1942, he visited the Kaiser shipyard in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. He proudly observed his daughter Anna (Mrs. John Boettiger) launch the Liberty-class S.S. Joseph N. Teal, a ship built in a remarkably short 10 days.

Pressed by the crowd of 14,000 eager workers, FDR said some words from his seat in the front of his convertible limousine. FDR’s last personal secretary, Grace Tully, captured his impromptu speech:

“I have been very much inspired by what I have seen and I wish that every man, woman and child in the United States could have been here today to see that launching and realize what it means in the winning of this war.

You know I am not supposed to be here today (laughter) (the crowd really went wild), so you are the possessors of a secret which even the newspapers of the United states don’t know, and I hope you will keep the secret because I am under military and naval orders, and like the ship that we have just seen go overboard, my motions and movements are supposed to be secret. I do not know whether they are or not.

You are doing a wonderful piece of work for your country and for our civilization, and with the help of God we are going to, see this thing through together.”

 And we did.


Also see related stories “Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Kaiser Shipyards and Hospital” and
 “Typist bounces with the Kaisers to New York, Northwest and back.”

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