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Lawrence Research Retreat reflects the legacy of Massey’s first director, Dr. Walter Lawrence, Jr.

Jun 14, 2022

Walter Lawrence, Jr., M.D.

Massey Cancer Center Lawrence Research Retreat signageThe Lawrence Research Retreat on June 10 was a day filled with firsts.


As the first, major in-person event for Massey leadership and researchers since the pandemic put events on hold for two years, the Lawrence Research Retreat radiated an air of comfort and collegiality. The Massey Nation showed up with smiles, ready to embrace their colleagues in-person and hear about Massey accomplishments and program developments.


Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., kicked off the day with opening remarks that were a tribute to the Retreat’s namesake, Walter Lawrence, Jr., M.D., who was at the helm of Massey as its first director after its founding in 1974. Winn came to Massey in 2019 to further build upon the foundational legacy that was carried out with each director that followed – the most recent, Gordon Ginder, M.D., who was among the audience on Friday.


“Every organization depends on the foundation that was built before it,” said Winn, the Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey and senior associate dean for cancer innovation at the VCU School of Medicine. He added that he wants every person to leave Massey with the thought, “That was a cancer center that cares about its people.”

“Dr. Lawrence had a fierce commitment that everyone benefits from the science that we do.”
- Robert A. Winn, M.D., Massey director


Right after opening remarks, Winn revealed to the audience the new deputy director and senior vice president of the cancer service line, Paula Fraccaso, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, will join Massey this summer. Fraccaso comes to Massey from the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Cancer Center.


Other morning session speakers included Massey’s leadership team who spoke to the nearly 150-person audience about their respective programs and the latest highlights.


Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) noted that in her decade-long tenure with Massey, that COE was an office that was organized that didn’t exist years ago. Sheppard also touched on another first for COE, the launch of a Community Champions initiative to bridge the flow of communications between the community and the bench.  


Emmanuel Taylor, MSc, DrPH, associate director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), spoke to the audience about DEI at Massey. First opened in 2021, the Office’s main purpose is to infuse DEI in hiring, among faculty and staff, and throughout the promotion of policies, processes in support of a workplace that reflects DEI.


Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., (cancer research training and education), Harry Bear, M.D., Ph.D., (clinical research), and Paul Fawcett, Ph.D., (shared resources) rounded up the morning session speakers before the keynote speaker, Raphael E. Pollock, M.D., Ph.D., director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, who also noted that he was the first keynote speaker of the first Lawrence Research Retreat.


During the keynote, Pollock spoke about various approaches to remove rare liposarcoma tumors from former patients and the years of life added, post-surgery. During the Q&A session, Pollock mentioned how one procedure helped a patient to live 30 years after surgery. He closed his remarks citing the complexities of the rare cancer, “There are so many questions about this disease.” Pollack added, “He who controls the tissue, controls the questions,” an adage that was all too familiar for the providers and researchers in the room.


The latter half of the day was reserved for breakout sessions and presentations under three major themes: cancer biology, developmental therapeutics, and cancer prevention and control. Before the retreat ended, strategic plan points and future directions for each area were summarized before the Massey crowd. Weaved into those strategies was an emphasis on more community engagement.

Massey director Winn presented with an award from the American Cancer Society


The retreat closed with a surprise. Winn was presented with an award from the American Cancer Society (ACS) for his volunteerism and commitment as a member of the ACS Board of Directors. His ACS staff partner and senior director of Cancer Control Strategic Partnerships at the American Cancer Society Riguey King, presented the joint award which she shares with Winn. 


Said Sebti, Ph.D., associate director of basic research, stated the final remarks of the day with a familiar saying at Massey that underscores the mission of the cancer center: “One team. One fight.”


Written by: Vanessa Copeland

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