When Dr. Francis J. Tedesco was hired in May 1988 as Medical College of Georgia’s new president, then regent vice chair Joseph Greene described him as “a visionary thinker.”
When Tedesco delivered his last address before retiring in 2001, the department of family medicine chair Dr. Joseph Hobbs said Tedesco’s era was one with some of the most remarkable growth in the school’s history.
“It’s going to be very hard for us to think about MCG without thinking about Fran Tedesco,” Hobbs said.
Tedesco retired, the school transitioned into new leadership and a new name, Georgia Health Sciences University, and now more than 10 years have passed since he walked out of his office for the last time.
“I’m enjoying retirement, but staying busy,” Tedesco said.
Spending time with his grandsons is the biggest priority now that he has a little more time, but Tedesco also serves on the board of several nonprofits within the health care and education sectors.
Healthcare Georgia Foundation is one that Tedesco has been very involved in, and served as chairman for several years. The foundation has done a lot of good in Georgia, he said, and he’s enjoyed being able to mitigate some of the struggles underserved Georgians are facing.
Healthcare Georgia Foundation was created when Blue Cross Blue Shield went from being a nonprofit to a for-profit company, and works to advance the health of Georgians and help underserved individuals and communities. Tedesco helped the foundation to grow its assets to more than $100 million.
“That’s been a very rewarding endeavor,” he said. “Not only do you learn about issues within the state, you can do something to ameliorate it.”
He also serves as chairman of the Ty Cobb Education Foundation, a nonprofit that provides college scholarships to Georgians who qualify on the basis of income and academics. The foundation requires that scholarship recipients complete their freshman year of college on their own, and Tedesco believes this is a good way to find students who are committed to their education.
“It really is quite remarkable,” he said. “I’m very excited about this work.”
The Ty Cobb Foundation has awarded more than 8,000 scholarships totaling more than $13 million.
Retirement has also given Tedesco time to reflect on his time at the medical school, and he believes his greatest accomplishment while there was developing a rigorous research program before it was popular.
“Research is cornerstone to the creation of new knowledge,” he said. “You’re changing how health care is given, more effectively and efficiently. That really should be everyone’s goal.”
Tedesco worked to raise funding for research and saw the construction of GHSU’s Children’s Medical Center, the Ambulatory Care Center/Specialty Care Center, the Center for Sports Medicine and the Interdisciplinary Research Facility.
Dr. Barry Goldstein worked as provost under Tedesco, and he said the school would be a much different place without Tedesco’s devotion to building a state-of-the-art research program.
“He was the first one to really understand, appreciate and value research,” he said. “He was an innovator and if he hadn’t done that, I think we would have been left in the dust.”
Tedesco’s successor, Dr. Dan Rahn, served as president from 2001 to 2009. The current president, Dr. Ricardo Azziz, has been in office since 2010 and Tedesco said he has watched the school progress under Azziz’s leadership.
“He has the energy and the vision to lead the school as it moves forward in a very difficult time,” Tedesco said.
The health care and education sectors are both struggling, and Tedesco said it requires courage and creativity to lead when funding for health education is going down, but demand for health professionals is going up.
Azziz ruffled some local feathers when he pushed to rename the school, but Tedesco said the decision was a logical one.
“I think the renaming is just reflective of what the school actually is,” he said. “It’s like anything else, it’s going to take time for the old guard to get used to it.”
The new GHSU Athens campus was also met with a mixed response, but Tedesco said he supported that development as well, saying it is a new, exciting time for the university.
“The concern from the community is whether assets will be sucked away, and that’s a valid question,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should be worried, though. This is still the mother ship.”
Although he will always hold a special place in his heart for the school and happenings there, Tedesco said it has been nice to spend time with his family and invest in his grandsons.
“This is the major, most important thing I’ve done,” he said with a smile.