UNC’s cancer hospital renamed for leader whose ‘relentless drive’ made it possible

Political heavies and health care leaders from across the state gathered Monday for a dedication ceremony at Chapel Hill’s N.C. Cancer Hospital, which was renamed in honor of the late North Carolina state Sen. Marc Basnight.

Basnight — “arguably the most powerful state legislator in North Carolina’s history,” as The News & Observer reported in his obituary — died in 2020 after a long battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Democrat from the Outer Banks was a titan of North Carolina politics who commanded respect from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during his unprecedented 18-year run as Senate leader.

Among his long list of legislative successes, Basnight was instrumental in funding the UNC cancer hospital, which opened in 2009 — two years after his wife died of cancer, The N&O reported. Now as the N.C. Basnight Cancer Hospital, the facility will keep serving patients from across North Carolina.

“His painful loss of Sandy certainly was the spark that started this cancer center,” Gov. Roy Cooper, a fellow Democrat who served with Basnight in the Senate for a decade, said at the dedication, “but it was Marc’s relentless drive that finished it ... It is so fitting that it should bear his name.”

About 150 people attended the ceremony, which was a bipartisan gathering. Sen. Phil Berger, who replaced Basnight as Senate leader after Republicans took over control of the legislature, said his predecessor was always “thinking about what was best for the state of North Carolina.”

“On the night that Republicans won a majority in North Carolina, one of the first calls I got was from Marc Basnight,” Berger said. “And it wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t any excuses or anything like that. It was basically, ‘Phil, y’all did it. Tell me what you need.’ That’s the way Marc was.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, left, and Gov. Roy Cooper attend a dedication ceremony Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, at Chapel Hill’s N.C. Cancer Hospital, which was renamed in honor of the late North Carolina state Sen. Marc Basnight.
Senate leader Phil Berger, left, and Gov. Roy Cooper attend a dedication ceremony Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, at Chapel Hill’s N.C. Cancer Hospital, which was renamed in honor of the late North Carolina state Sen. Marc Basnight.

Peter Hans, president of the UNC System, said Basnight represented a well-functioning political system. Under his tenure, institutions such as UNC “always benefited from bipartisan goodwill,” Hans said.

And Cooper added that Basnight “could bust through bureaucracy like no one I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“The hospital is being renamed to honor Senator Basnight and to celebrate his many contributions to the health of the people of our state,” UNC Health said in a statement. “UNC Health and the UNC School of Medicine are able to lead the way in cancer care and research thanks to the vision, leadership and support of Senator Basnight.”

The N.C. Basnight Cancer Hospital is one of 16 in the UNC Health system. The organization also oversees more than 500 clinics and clinical patient care programs across the state.

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