(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the awards dinner and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
When Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans and thousands took shelter in the convention center, many people needed medical care urgently. In the first chaotic days after the storm, Dr. Greg Henderson, a pathologist who had just moved back to his native city from Wilmington, set up what was essentially a MASH unit in the center. The old, the young, the sick and the injured all needed care, but he had little at hand with which to help them, and conditions were truly desperate. Sanitation was poor, food and water were in short supply, and medical supplies practically nonexistent.
Just as Henderson started to lose heart, he got a phone call from the Wilmington-based pharmaceutical company PPD Inc. – they were flying down a plane load of drugs and supplies. “The cavalry is coming,” he thought.
PPD is Fred Eshelman’s company. He founded it in 1985 as a one-man operation, and it now employs more than 10,000 professionals in 33 countries around the world. No one who knows him was surprised that his company responded so quickly to the Katrina disaster or that it channeled its resources precisely where they would do the most good. He tends to act quietly, but Fred is a man who makes careful choices to ensure that his efforts have a genuine impact.
His support for the School of Pharmacy has been similarly targeted. Ever since he received his bachelor’s degree he has maintained a strong tie with the school. A native of High Point, he left North Carolina briefly to pursue his PharmD degree, returned to take senior management roles for what was then Glaxo Inc., and then started his own pharmaceutical products development company. Despite the challenges of building a large, multinational enterprise, he has worked for many years to ensure that the only public school of pharmacy in North Carolina continues to serve the health care needs of the state’s citizens.
Essential as that role is, Fred saw that the school had more potential. He believed it could become the top pharmacy program in the nation – and indeed the world – on both the professional and graduate levels. Close study brought him to this view. As an adjunct faculty member and as a member of the school’s board of visitors, he knew that deans Bill Campbell and Bob Blouin were moving the school forward in pharmaceutical practice, education and research.
He was convinced they were headed in the right direction – but that they needed more financial support. In 2003, Fred made what was then the largest commitment ever to a pharmacy school in the United States. Four years later, he contributed substantial additional support for educational initiatives and cancer research. The funding helped support new research facilities – among them the Genetic Medicine Building completed last year – graduate fellowships, professorships, PharmD scholarships and unrestricted funds for new initiatives. It enabled the school to bolster three new science-based centers working to advance drug discovery, nanotechnology, drug delivery and pharmaco-genomics – and to bring in world-class leaders to direct them.
As when his company sent medical supplies directly to a highly competent doctor in New Orleans, Fred believes the best results come from putting resources in the hands of those who know how to use them. The graduate fellowships he funded allow the school to attract strong candidates for its graduate program, which has doubled in size in the last five years. His support also has allowed the school to leverage cancer research money from the state in a dollar-for-dollar match.
Bob Blouin says the school has benefited equally from Fred’s counsel, particularly now that he chairs the board of visitors. “As a consequence of his support, both financial and intellectual,” Bob says, “we have been able to do some phenomenal work on this campus.”
That work has moved the school up to the Number 2 spot in the national rankings in both research and educational programs. But when its leaders wanted to rename the pharmacy school in Fred’s honor last year, he was reluctant. They practically had to beg him.
The loving caretaker of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy cares much more about seeing the school bring in the best talent, discover new treatments for disease, and continue to address the shortage of pharmacists in the state. He wants to see results. Few can match his capacity for hard work, his broad professional insight or the depth of his twin passions: for pharmacy and for excellence.
The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal has been awarded since 1978 to alumni and others who have provided outstanding service to the GAA and/or to the University. The award is presented at the annual Alumni Luncheon on the weekend of reunions and Commencement in May. This year’s recipients are Bernadette Gray-Little, executive vice chancellor and provost; Dwight M. “Davy” Davidson ’77, past chair of the GAA Board of Directors; Fred N. Eshelman ’72, a major supporter of the pharmacy school; and James H. “Jim” Winston ’55, who helped establish the College of Arts and Sciences’ first overseas facility.