University of Minnesota

Len Syme on the Evans County Study-Curtis Hames takes on the Bureaucrats

“I had all kinds of interesting experiences in the study section. One day in the late 1950s we got an application from a guy in Georgia saying that he had read about Tecumseh, Framingham, Albany, Los Angeles, a lot of big heart disease epidemiology projects, but he thought they were all doomed because the investigators did not really know the people involved. This was Curtis Hames.

He said he was a physician in Claxton, Georgia and that he knew the people involved and he wanted to do a similar study to Framingham in Claxton. Everybody laughed. He was turned down.

He wrote me a letter asking, ‘Why did you turn me down?’

I said, ‘You know, Dr. Hames, this is a technical field. We have a place that does EKG tracings readings, we have a lab that does the lipid stuff, we have ways of measuring, standard methods that have been developed in this field and you just can’t pick up a piece of paper and say you’re going to go do a project like that.’

‘OK, thanks.’ So a year later he resubmits.

He brought all the people that I mentioned. I think Henry Blackburn was involved and Geoffrey Rose was involved; he got the lipid standardization people. He brought in everybody in the world either to Claxton or he went to them, I can’t remember which. But he got them all involved. ‘OK, now I’ve met your demands. Now how about it?’

So we gave him a little bit of money and … knew we would go down for a site visit in a year and find out that this guy was a real amateur. But he really had gotten all these people involved and we couldn’t just say no. So we came down in a year.

I remember the first thing he did was pick us up at the airport in a big black Cadillac that offended everyone and [then] took us to a motel and gave us Claxton fruit cake, which offended us even more. He was ingratiating.

Then the next morning we came and we sat in his place and he told us stories about this woman or that man and it was really ridiculous and finally we said, ‘Look, we have limited time and we really need to see…’

‘Oh, I see. You want to see the data.’ He took us in the other room and there it was. He had done everything and done it brilliantly, more of the data done as well as anyone could do it and the rest is history. It was an interesting experience.” (Len Syme)

[ed. Evans County went on to become one of the classics of CVD epidemiological research in a diverse southern population at substantial risk.]