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William and Frances Blot deed home to VUMC to benefit cancer patients

May. 20, 2021, 9:44 AM

William Blot, PhD, and his wife, Frances, deeded the proceeds of the sale of their home to VUMC after William Blot retired in April.
William Blot, PhD, and his wife, Frances, deeded the proceeds of the sale of their home to VUMC after William Blot retired in April. (photo by Ken McCray)

by Tom Wilemon

Their condominium in The Westbury was at the heart of all that William and Frances Blot loved about Nashville — its proximity to Vanderbilt where he worked for two decades, its sidewalk that led to the greenspaces where they would watch the seasons change, and its residents who became more like friends than neighbors.

When William Blot became emeritus professor of Medicine this spring, the Blots moved away from Nashville and gave from their hearts, deeding their home to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The proceeds from its sale created a charitable remainder trust to establish the Frances D. and William J. Blot Cancer Fund to support patient care initiatives, research endeavors and training of the next generation of scientists at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC).

“I’m so glad we did this,” said Frances Blot. “We loved being in Nashville and all the people we knew on the Vanderbilt staff, the professors and the students. We don’t know the new people who moved in the condominium, but we do know that the sale is helping Vanderbilt, and that makes us really happy.”

William Blot, PhD, served as associate director of Population Sciences Research at VICC until his April 1 retirement. He joins many other faculty who have served VUMC and chosen to extend their impact through philanthropic support.

“We are great admirers of the program that Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, and colleagues have developed,” he said. “Having been part of the leadership as an associate director, I have over the years seen the need for increased funding. We figured that since we weren’t going to be using our condominium anymore in Nashville, this would be contributing in a small way.”

William Blot came to Vanderbilt in 2000 to help establish a cancer epidemiology program. The program has grown from a handful of employees to a staff approaching 100. Blot and Margaret Hargreaves, PhD, cofounded the landmark Southern Community Cohort Study, one of the nation’s largest epidemiologic studies, to assess the reasons for racial and geographic disparities in cancer incidence and mortality. The study has received continuous funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) since 2001 and has played a role in changes to public health policy, including the recent decision by the United States Preventive Services Task Force to lower the age and smoking history recommendations for lung screenings.

“This is a generous and much-appreciated gift from Bill and Frances Blot. Dr. Blot has already given so much to Vanderbilt-Ingram through his leadership and establishing a world-class cancer epidemiology program,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology, director of VICC, Executive Vice President for Research at VUMC and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development.

“His research has yielded key discoveries regarding the distribution, determinants and means of preventing human cancers. He has created platforms that have accelerated discoveries impacting the health and welfare of communities in the U.S. and around the world. The Frances D. and William J. Blot Cancer Fund will support continued progress in these efforts as we work to lessen the burden of cancer in this region and beyond,” Pietenpol said.

Orrin H. Ingram II, chair of the VICC Board of Overseers, also noted Blot’s leadership and commitment.

“Not only does Bill give back through his cutting-edge research, but he and Fran give back through their philanthropy in supporting young investigators’ research. This early-stage funding is so critical, as most federal and institutional grants require research to be further developed before funding is considered,” said Ingram.

Blot began his career working in Hiroshima, Japan, for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission after completing an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Florida, where he and Frances met in a classroom, and then a PhD in statistics from Florida State University.

“I got introduced into the field of medical statistics and epidemiology and discovered that’s where I wanted to be rather than as a mathematician or statistician,” he said.

Blot then worked at The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health before joining the NCI for 20 years, where he served as chief of the Biostatistics Branch.

He left the NCI and cofounded the International Epidemiology Institute. The company contracted with Vanderbilt to develop a research portfolio in cancer epidemiology and to recruit staff, a relationship that led to Blot’s appointment as a Vanderbilt professor.

“The first grant application we submitted toward the end of 2000 was for the Southern Community Cohort Study,” he said. “Lo and behold, that got funded on the first go-around. We also were fortunate to recruit epidemiologists Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, and Xiao-Ou Shu, MD, PhD. Suddenly, Vanderbilt went from maybe one or two part-time people engaged in cancer epidemiology to a core group of over a dozen people. We established a track record of funding for epidemiologic research that moved Vanderbilt from almost nowhere on the list to close to the top in about a year-and-a-half period. It was a remarkable period of transition.”

The Blots are now enjoying retirement at their home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, near their daughter, son and three grandchildren, and at their condominium in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

To learn how you can support VUMC through a gift of real estate or in your will, visit VanderbiltHealth.org/giftplanning.

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