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Board spotlight — Amy Williams: Longtime Massey supporter breathes new life into the Massey Challenge

May 21, 2024

Massey director (left) pictured with Board members Becky Massey (center) and Amy Williams Amy Williams (right) with Massey director and Lipman Chair in Oncology, Robert A. Winn, M.D. (left) and Massey Advisory Board Chair Becky Massey (center) at a 2023 donor event at Ms. Williams’ home celebrating Massey’s designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Amy McDaniel Williams, vice chair of the VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center Advisory Board and a dedicated donor, epitomizes resilience and determination. In 2007, she watched her father battle lymphoma, and she emerged from a sedentary lifestyle to an athlete’s lifestyle. Her first race was the Monument Avenue 10K, and triathlons and other endurance sports followed. Each year she channeled her passion into fundraising for cancer research.

The fight became even more personal in 2011 when Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer. She sought treatment at VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I knew enough about Massey then to know I wanted to be treated there,” said Williams. “I had a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. I remember I was very active at the time, which helped with my recovery. I feel like Massey saved my life.”

To show her gratitude, she began fundraising for the Massey Challenge and in 2015, Williams assumed the role of a Massey Challenge community team captain. The Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K has proudly partnered with Massey for nearly two decades (the 2024 running of the 10K was the 19th year in partnership with Massey).

Soon after her treatment, Williams began championing the Massey Challenge to others. Merging her love of fitness and fundraising was a natural next step and an opportunity to rally others around a common cause.

“The Massey Challenge is how everybody in the Richmond community can get involved”, said Williams. “You do something good for everybody by walking or running the 10K and raising awareness and funds for cancer research.”

Williams’ dedication and leadership caught the attention of her Massey radiation oncologist Douglas Arthur, M.D., who cared for her in 2015 during seven weeks of radiation treatment.

"I've known Amy for a long time,” said Arthur, who is the Florence and Hyman Meyers Chair in Radiation Oncology and associate director for clinical affairs at Massey, and also a longtime Massey Challenge team captain and supporter. “She’s a powerhouse in terms of enthusiasm and focus on the cause. Relentless is another word I’d use to describe her. When she commits, she is relentless in increasing awareness and involvement.”

Arthur knows that community team captains play a significant role in the event's success, as they recruit race participants, raise funds and motivate their teams to achieve donation goals.

“Life is busy and while you may hear of the Massey Challenge, it can be difficult to get engaged,” said Arthur. “Community champions allow everybody to remember and stay motivated to participate.”

'Amy's Army' yard sign promoting Massey Challenge Amy Williams (left), on the Team Amy’s Army of Cancer Warriors sign that was displayed along the Massey Mile at the 2024 Massey Challenge.

As Massey commemorates its 50th anniversary and the Monument Avenue 10K celebrates 25 years, the Massey Challenge continues to symbolize community solidarity. In its 19-year history, the event has generated over $500,000 for cancer research.

Under Williams' leadership, the Massey Challenge committee underwent a significant overhaul in 2024, resulting in increased participation from various industries.

“The pandemic impacted race participation worldwide,” said Williams. “With the 25th anniversary, I wanted to step up and get the community more involved again.”

Leveraging friendly competition, Williams successfully boosted support within the legal community and law firms rooted in Richmond.

In Fall 2023, Williams organized the Silver and Gold Challenge to encourage firms and legal departments to participate in the Massey Challenge by rallying around the singular cause in the months leading up to the race.

Drawing on her three decades of expertise as a structured finance partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, she adeptly forged connections to enhance involvement. This massive undertaking was noticed and respected by other Massey Challenge participants.

“The Richmond legal community enthusiastically accepted the challenge and collectively raised more than $25,000 to support Massey’s life-saving work,” said Clay Bennett, a fellow Hunton associate and Massey Challenge committee member. “More importantly, Amy helped to spread Massey’s mission to many community members who previously had no connection to Massey—an effort that is certain to have a lasting impact.”

These efforts were noticed in other industries as well. “Amy was fabulous!,” senior vice president at Bank of America and Massey Challenge team captain Karen Wilson, said.

Supports and donors participating in the Massey Challenge First-time team captain Karen Wilson (right) rallied team members from Bank of America to join the Massey Challenge, as part of an industry-wide competition spearheaded by Williams.

Massey’s mission and the importance of the 10K resonated throughout the organization, Wilson said, and she had no trouble building support for the cause. Wilson, who is a three-time cancer survivor, asked Bank of America’s market president for his support to create a team. “We invited Amy to a senior leadership meeting, where she shared the information about the 10K, Massey and how these efforts align with our goals for our company,” she said. And the rest was history.

Wilson shared her excitement about being able to rally behind her team. “We were a small but mighty team,” she added. “And we hope to grow it next year.”

“We made [recruiting for] the Massey Challenge personal so that everyone could see, feel and understand how important having an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center is to the community,” Wilson said. “Our teammates who participated enjoyed the race and have been talking it up for next year. We have our own lessons learned and will have more teammates with a higher goal and ensure we step it up!”

With one in two men and one in three women diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes, cancer impacts everyone.

Williams’ leadership extended beyond the corporate world; she recruited Massey researchers and leaders to join the Challenge, fostering a cohesive effort across the institution. At 62 teams and more than 550 individual participants, the number of Massey Challengers this year more than doubled that in 2023.

This year’s Challenge included the Challenge’s first-ever cycling team, led by Renato Martins, M.D., Chair of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care at Massey. Martins teamed up with others, including Williams, to host the Cycling for a Future without Cancer,” a cycling event on May 4 which drew Massey leaders, including center director and Lipman Chair in Oncology, Robert A. Winn, M.D., and deputy director, Paula M. Fracasso, M.D., Ph.D., to raise an impressive $6,000 in its first year.

Participants during cycling event Williams (enter, above) and participants in the inaugural Cycling for a Future without Cancer event as part of the 2024 Massey Challenge.

William’s support for Massey through events that engage and encourage folks to stay active extends back nearly a decade. In 2015, Williams co-founded and served as president of Amy’s Army of Cancer Warriors through 2022. The organization raised over $200,000 for Massey during this time through events such as the Climb to Conquer Cancer and Pedals through Petals by merging fitness activities and exploration of the greater Richmond area with philanthropy toward cancer research.

“I have always been passionate about Massey and about the work they are doing every day to fight and cure cancer,” Williams said. “What better way to do that than to remind people about the importance of staying active and enjoying time together?”

Williams, who supports Massey, both personally and through her connections across the area, is committed to making annual contributions and substantial gifts to further Massey's mission and help create a world without cancer. With her husband, Steve, Williams frequently hosts donor gatherings at their personal residence, extending warm invitations to Massey researchers and other contributors to learn about research updates and priorities at the cancer center.

Under Williams’ leadership, the 2024 Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10K and the Massey Challenge, which was held on Saturday, April 20, 2024, raised $232,000.

What lies ahead for Williams? She inspired two avid VCU cyclists to spearhead a first-ever Cycling for a Future Without Cancer bike ride event at Pony Pasture that she hopes will continue for many years. And she’s setting her sights high for the 2025 Massey Challenge next year.

“For next year, we plan to build on the momentum to involve more groups—more companies, faith groups, schools, and others—in the Massey mission,” she said. “The more teams and fundraisers are involved, the more the word gets out about the amazing place Massey is.”

The 2025 Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K and the 20th year of the Massey Challenge is on April 12, 2025. To learn more and get involved:

Written by: Melissa Mitchell

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