Reaching Decisions by a Marriage of Minds
For more than a decade, Allen and Weta Mathies have made decisions important to the direction of County-USC Medical Center.
It can happen while they are sitting at the dining table, lounging on the patio or spading the garden.
Dr. Allen W. Mathies Jr. or his wife, Weta, returns from work and opens the mail at the couple’s South Pasadena home, above brush-covered Arroyo Seco.
Later, the other partner arrives at the three-bedroom home that’s concealed from the quiet street by leafy sycamore trees and camellia and azalea bushes.
Then the couple discuss the day, sitting down to dinner or retreating to the long backyard, where the partially covered brick patio, surrounded by lemon, fig and persimmon trees, leads to a large swimming pool.
A Decade of Decisions
And this is where it happens: For more than a decade, decisions in this setting have determined a large part of the direction of the USC School of Medicine and the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
Allen Mathies (pronounced ma-thi-us), 54, has been dean of the School of Medicine, which is affiliated with County-USC Medical Center, for 11 years, while Weta Mathies, 51, is past president of CARES, the County-USC Medical Center Auxiliary, and has worked doggedly for other medical school and Medical Center programs.
Seated near their living room fireplace one evening, Allen, who will leave his position July 1, said that the job “isn’t one person Wearing a blue button-down dress shirt, tan pants and loafers and seated on a love seat that has been in Weta Mathies’ family for nearly 60 years, Allen said that while he had dealt with budgets, space requests and faculty recruitment, his wife had been visiting medical school support groups and affiliated hospitals.
“There have been times,” he said, “when I have gone to one meeting at one of our affiliated hospitals and Weta has gone to another. And each of those institutions thought that the dean was there to lend his or her presence because of the fact that we’ve worked there. . . .
“We share all this information at night. . . . I’ll say something and it will ripple out there and Weta will say, ‘Do you know what that’s being interpreted as? You’d better clarify . . . because it’s not being interpreted the way you wanted it to.’
“And that’s been a wonderful adjunct to whatever a dean would do,” said Allen, who will become president and chief executive officer of Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, “to have somebody out there who’s willing to listen and willing to bring that information back.”
Weta Mathies, wearing a cool, white cotton dress with a blue border, sat on a chair near her husband. As he smoked a cigarette, she told of growing up in nearby Arcadia wanting to be a veterinarian. She met her husband at Colorado College in Colorado Springs in 1953 and decided to follow him as he obtained a Ph.D in parasitology at Columbia University and a medical degree at the University of Vermont.
“But I wouldn’t say that with anguish,” she said. “That was my choice, but not out of martyrdom. It’s a decision I’m pleased with.”
Active with the Pasadena Junior Philharmonic and other groups before her husband was chosen interim dean of the medical school in 1974 and dean in 1975, she reduced other commitments and began devoting more time to the School of Medicine.
Free Child Care
She helped found CARES, the County-USC Medical Center Auxiliary, and fostered establishment of centers that last year provided free child care to 20,000 children of County-USC patients.
Sharing the raising of two sons--Bill, now 25, a nursing home administrator in Santa Monica, and John, 22, a caterer who lives with his parents--she also worked for many other medical groups on a schedule that often required 40 hours a week.
Weta (the nickname resulted from the way she pronounced given name, Lewise, as a child) met her husband when she enrolled in a first-year zoology course at Colorado College.
Allen Mathies was the teaching assistant. He said he noticed Weta Austin--daughter of former Security Pacific National Bank President Lloyd Austin--in part because she was in the front row due to an alphabetical seating arrangement.
Weta graduated, married Allen in 1956 and went to New York to work as a laboratory researcher on animals while he completed his Ph.D.
At night, because of her background in zoology, she helped him plan and conduct his experiments on mice.
When he completed his Ph.D, Allen entered the University of Vermont medical school because he wanted to understand how parasites affect humans. He doubled as a faculty member, teaching fellow students parasitology.
He graduated from medical school in 1961 and the collaboration with his wife continued as he became an intern at USC in 1961, a professor in 1964 and a dean in 1974.
Only one of the 16 previous deans, Charles W. Bryson, who served from 1909 to 1920, lasted as long as Allen Mathies did.
That is one reason Mathies is leaving. He is proud of helping recruit what he calls outstanding faculty members, of finding private medical school funding in the wake of Proposition 13 and of securing an agreement to build a new university hospital across the street from the medical center. He decided, nevertheless, that there was a “point of diminishing returns” because familiarity among the executive and his co-workers diminishes imagination.
He also enjoyed the fact that his new job would be only eight blocks from home. Mathies said he had received other job offers or inquiries, but they tended to be outside Southern California, where he wanted to stay.
So shortly after the Mathieses visit the medical school campus at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to attend the Centennial Gala celebrating the school’s 100th anniversary, they will end their 24-year affiliation.
Allen Mathies will not teach parasitology next year at USC as he has for the last 23 years.
And someone else may have to sing the national anthem on County-USC Medical School nights at Dodger Stadium. Mathies, a baritone who has sung in many church choirs and who has sung the anthem for the last six years at the stadium, is scheduled to sing July 29 but may not be available in the future.
Changes Are Among Many
Those changes are among many that will remove him from USC, but Huntington Memorial is a teaching hospital for USC medical students.
“It’s not as though I’m moving from a black to a white kind of change. I’m moving from a black to a gray kind of change,” he said. . . .
“It’s with real mixed feelings that I leave. If you look at that history of 100 years of the School of Medicine, I really have seen almost a quarter of it and been part of the big growth that occurred.
“I take tremendous pride, proprietary interest in taking visitors to our campus and saying when I came here there were two buildings related to the School of Medicine. Now there are 13. You sort of feel as if that’s been part of your life.
“But I don’t think I’m going to lose that and I will continue to try and participate in things involving the school. But it will be at a little different level.”