Medical College of Georgia President Francis J. Tedesco is retiring from the school, but part of him isn't leaving - namely, his name.
Dr. Tedesco was honored Friday night at a retirement dinner with an endowed chair in his name that will provide an ongoing legacy of his work at MCG. The Medical College of Georgia Foundation Inc. announced it has established the Francis J. Tedesco, M.D., Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.
Income from the more than $1 million endowment will help supplement the salary of a physician who battles childhood cancer. It is the result of a deeply personal story that gets Dr. Tedesco choked up as he relates it.
"If we can contribute to helping one kid because of this in the future, then we are blessed," Dr. Tedesco said.
His daughter, Jennifer, was 8 years old in 1984 when she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, two cancerous tumors in the soft palate. Enter two old friends from Vidalia, Ga., - Gerry Achenbach and his wife, Sara Dean. Mr. Achenbach, former chairman and president of Piggly Wiggly Southern Inc., had been a patient of Dr. Tedesco for several years, and the families had become friends.
"Gerry, you have to know him, he's a very Christian individual," Dr. Tedesco said. "He would every day, he would say a prayer for her. That lasted for 10 years!"
The prayers went on long after Jennifer completed a year of painful chemotherapy and radiation. Later, Dr. Tedesco would arrange the treatment for Mrs. Achenbach at MCG until her death in the mid-1980s. It was around that time that Mr. Achenbach talked to him about endowing a chair at the school.
"He just wanted it named for me; he didn't have any great expectations about where I would want it," Dr. Tedesco said. "But when I talked about pediatric oncology, he just thought that was wonderful because it would reinforce someone that he loved, he absolutely loved my daughter very much, and that was just a very nice situation."
After Mr. Achenbach died in 1996, his will left more money for the endowment, and friends and others have added to it.
"I am so honored and touched by this, touched because of (Mr.) Achenbach and the wonderful outpouring of support from people wanting to contribute to this, that I can hardly talk about it," Dr. Tedesco said. "Giving it in this area is even more touching to us."
And though it was a tough time for her family, Jennifer Tedesco Ellis is glad to see the impact it has had.
"I never could have dreamed that that year of pain and suffering could have led to the development of such a generously endowed chair," said Mrs. Ellis, now 24, who is now healthy and has shown no further signs of cancer.
Since Dr. Tedesco became president in 1988, the foundation has increased from about $10 million to more than $100 million, said William E. Mayher III, chairman of the board of the foundation. The Tedesco chair will be the 28th chair endowed by the foundation during Dr. Tedesco's tenure.
"In my administration one of my goals has been to create endowed chairs, because that to me is the greatest gift, because not only do you get immediate benefit, but for the life of the institution it provides an opportunity for the institution to thrive and get better," Dr. Tedesco said.
The chair would start immediately after it is ratified by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, probably at their January meeting, Dr. Mayher said. No one has been named to the chair.
"I love this school for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is my daughter got world-class care here," Dr. Tedesco said. "If we, in any way, through this chair, can help ensure that will continue in the future, then I think my dream and I think Gerry's dream will be fulfilled."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.