James E. Goodnight, Jr. a UC Davis cancer surgeon, the first cancer center director and later associate dean for clinical affairs and Practice Management Board executive director, was honored Thursday evening at an event dedicating the renovated Cancer Center Auditorium in his name.
Funded with gifts from many different donors, the refurbished auditorium now has comfortable new seats and fresh, new carpeting. Guests, including cancer center leaders, staff and others who worked with Goodnight over the years, drank wine and noshed on appetizers during the brief program.
Cancer Center Director Primo "Lucky" Lara began by thanking Goodnight for his vision, beginning in the early 1980s, to build the cancer center and to help lead it to becoming a National Cancer Institute-designated center, which happened in 2002.
"Our stature as an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center could never have been achieved without your contributions and the work you put in," he said.
David Wisner, who assumed Goodnight’s position as associate dean after Goodnight’s retirement, said his predecessor was responsible for bringing surgical oncology to a much higher level.
“He was a really, really good surgeon,” Wisner said, then joked about Goodnight’s operating room taste for "head-banger music playing at a very high volume” during complex surgeries.
Wisner added that Goodnight was always the best teacher in the Department of Surgery, helped foster the careers of many young researchers and was a dedicated contributor to the community and university, noting his .
The common thread throughout his career, Wisner said, was Goodnight’s commitment to people.
“Ultimately, it’s not about us, it’s about taking care of people who are sick. That’s always at the top for him,” he said of his former colleague.
Goodnight regaled guests with humorous stories about the cancer center’s early days when “there was no place to go but up,” and about always having a “BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal.”
“I’m grateful I’m still standing,” he said to laughter, “and that this is not a memorial service.”