John Roderick Heller was born in Fair Play, South Carolina. He was a graduate of Clemson College and Emory University Medical School. In 1943, Dr. Heller was appointed chief of the U.S. Public Health Service’s venereal disease division. In 1948, he was named Director of the National Cancer Institute. In 1960, he became President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.