The air was alive with the spirit of celebration on Friday, Sept. 18, when nearly 400 cancer center supporters gathered at the Carolina Club for the 2nd UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Blue Ribbon Gala.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt started off the evening with a thrilling surprise: the announcement of a $10 million charitable gift to benefit UNC Lineberger, made by Ken and Cheryl Williams of Burlington, North Carolina. The couple, who serve as members of the UNC Lineberger Board of Visitors, designated the gift for the Ken and Cheryl Williams Fund for Venture Initiatives at UNC Lineberger. The purpose of the fund is to support promising, leading-edge cancer research at UNC Lineberger.
“Our family has personally been affected by cancer,” explained Ken Williams. “So Cheryl and I believe in the importance of the work that is taking place here at UNC Lineberger. The world-class research, the highest quality patient care – we know we’ve made a very wise investment in an organization that is dedicated to finding cures for this vicious disease. We have a high degree of trust and confidence in Dr. Ned Sharpless and future Lineberger leaders to understand best those emerging research opportunities that can make the greatest impact against cancer. And now, we just hope others will step up to the plate to do what they can to help eradicate cancer by supporting Lineberger.”
The excitement continued as UNC Lineberger honored two other leaders for their contributions in the fight against cancer.
Pharmaceutical-industry executive Fred Eshelman was recognized for his longtime support of the UNC School of Pharmacy. Eshelman graduated from the pharmacy school at UNC in 1972 and founded Wilmington-based PPD Inc. in 1985. He has supported the school with gifts totaling more than $100 million and serves as a member of its board of visitors and as an adjunct faculty member. In 2008, the pharmacy school was renamed in his honor. Dr. Eshelman has encouraged and supported close partnership efforts around cancer drug discovery between the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and UNC Lineberger.
Also honored was Nick Valvano, brother to the late college basketball coach and sports commentator Jim Valvano. Nick serves as President Emeritus of The V Foundation, which has awarded more than $130 million to more than 120 facilities nationwide to support cancer research and related programs. He served as Chief Executive Officer of The V Foundation for 13 years (1999-2012) and has been a member of the Board of Directors since its inception. Through its competitive grants process, the V Foundation has supported nearly 30 UNC Lineberger researchers. This has included 11 V Scholars, 10 designated grants and two translational awards.