Remembering John Curry
ACR Executive Director from 1984 to 2003
John J. Curry, former executive director of the ACR, passed away April 5, 2015, but left behind a legacy of love for the College, his co-workers, and his family.
Although John’s work at the College preceded my tenure on the ACR Board of Chancellors, I was privileged to work with John when I first became involved with the Commission on Economics. I remember well his vital contributions in integrating radiology’s relative value system for our procedures into what became the federal Resource-Based Relative Value Scale. According to William T. Thorwarth Jr., MD, FACR, our current ACR CEO, John had a reputation for being a class act and possessed a unique ability to pull multiple stakeholders together to reach a common purpose. Through his work in the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and using his contacts in the AMA, John was able to garner consensus for many of our strategies that preserved radiologist reimbursement as part of Medicare’s physician payment system rather than seeing our professional services included in the Medicare payments to hospitals (known as the “RAPs Proposal” of the 1980s).
While this was quite the accomplishment, John also had a passion for research and developed one of the most important arms of the ACR — our research center in Philadelphia. John came to the ACR after serving as the administrator of the radiation oncology department at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. During his tenure, John helped create the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG), a cooperative effort of physicians, physicists, and numerous other stakeholder groups across many institutions, all dedicated to improving cancer care.
When John came to the College in 1975, he established a research center for the ACR in Philadelphia, and shortly thereafter the College became the recipient for all of the RTOG grants and the coordinator of the many RTOG-sponsored multicenter clinical trials in radiation oncology. Over the years, RTOG opened over 460 protocols, enrolled over 75,000 patients, and published over 700 papers reporting the results of its findings. Under John’s leadership, the College also became the recipient of the NCI-funded Patterns of Care Study, later known as Quality Research in Radiation, which for over 30 years conducted national on-site surveys on the practice of radiation oncology.
The model of establishing the ACR as an honest broker for multicenter clinical trials in radiation oncology subsequently led to the ACR’s application to lead a National Cancer Institute–sponsored imaging network. Working with Bruce J. Hillman, MD, FACR, and Constantine Gatsonis, PhD, John coordinated the establishment of the ACR Imaging Network (ACRIN), which subsequently led to important multicenter diagnostic clinical trials such as the Digital Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial and the National Lung Screening Trial. It was also during John’s tenure that lobbying efforts by the radiology community, including the ACR, led to legislation establishing the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. This division of the National Institutes of Health increased the focus of government-sponsored research on imaging.
As executive director of the College, John oversaw the move of ACR headquarters from Chicago to Reston, Va., which resulted in increased access to government for the ACR’s vital advocacy efforts. John also led the development of ACR-sponsored standards and practice parameters for radiology and, beginning with mammography, our practice accreditation programs. It was also under John’s leadership that the ACR developed the ACR Appropriateness Criteria® for ordering diagnostic imaging examinations and therapeutic procedures. All of these have become the backbone of the ACR’s current portfolio of programs for our members. Finally, John expanded our government relations efforts through the establishment of RADPAC®, the ACR Association’s bipartisan political action committee dedicated to educating members of Congress about issues important to radiology. From its beginnings in 1999, RADPAC has gone on to become the second largest medical specialty political action committee.
Although John leaves a legacy of important professional accomplishments, he was also quite beloved by his co-workers. He venerated the accomplishments of others when projects were successful and shouldered the blame when things did not work out as planned. According to Pam Wilcox, RN, MBA, ACR executive vice president for quality and safety, John’s endearing leadership style included celebrations for accomplishments of our staff members and even birthday dinners at Chez Francois in Great Falls, Va. Pam says rumor has it that after John retired, Chez Francois lost its best customer and had to close its doors! Apparently the celebrations often included dancing because it is said that John really loved to dance.
In addition to his service to the ACR, John also leaves a legacy of dedication to family. On behalf of our profession, I thank John’s wife, Meg, and his daughters and grandchildren for sharing John with the College and our profession for those 26 years.
By Bibb Allen Jr., MD, FACR, Chair