Preston Left Enduring Legacy

June 22, 2012 | Dagny Stuart

Frances Williams Preston

Members of the Vanderbilt community have spent the past week sharing remembrances of a Nashville businesswoman who made an indelible mark on the Medical Center.

Frances Williams Preston, one of the most successful female executives in the music industry and a member of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Board of Overseers, passed away at her Nashville home June 13 from congestive heart failure. She was 83.

Mrs. Preston spent most of her career with music performance rights company BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.). Eventually she led BMI’s Nashville operation and later rose to president of the company (1986-2004), headquartered in New York City.

Mrs. Preston championed the rights of songwriters, making sure that they were recognized and compensated for their contributions to the music industry. Over the years she worked with such well-known singers and songwriters as Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings.

As a longtime board member for the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research, she expanded the foundation’s outreach to include philanthropic support for the Nashville community.

In 1992, the Vanderbilt Cancer Center (now Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center) was in its infancy and Preston nurtured the seeds for growth by supporting new research facilities.

These “laboratories without walls” became the Frances Williams Preston Research Laboratories.

Harold L. (Hal) Moses, M.D., founding director of the Cancer Center, visited with Mrs. Preston just two weeks before her death.

“Frances Preston has always been a true friend and partner in our efforts to expand cancer research,” said Moses, the Hortense B. Ingram Chair of Cancer Research and director emeritus of Vanderbilt-Ingram. “She was a charming and extremely intelligent woman who understood the importance of basic research and how that eventually translates to patient care.”

Over the years, Mrs. Preston helped raise nearly $16 million for cancer research at the Cancer Center.

Today, the Preston Laboratories include the work of 20 senior scientists with nearly $40 million in active funding from the federal government, private industry and donors.

Mrs. Preston was so influential in her advocacy for cancer research that Vanderbilt’s Medical Research Building II was renamed the Frances Williams Preston Research Building.

“Frances Preston was a visionary leader and a tireless advocate for excellence,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of VICC. “Not a day will pass as we cross the threshold of the building that bears her name without our thinking about the impact she made on the lives of current and future cancer patients.”

Mrs. Preston was a true trailblazer in her profession, said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“She stood with Vanderbilt as a steadfast ally in the war against cancer, shaping the research and health care at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center from its very beginnings in myriad ways that have impacted countless patients here and across the nation. Her passing leaves us with a tremendous sense of loss,” Balser said.

Mrs. Preston attended George Peabody College for Teachers at Vanderbilt University and started her career in the mailroom at National Life & Accident Insurance Co. The company owned radio station WSM, and while serving as a receptionist there she began hosting a fashion program on WSM-TV. Soon she was working on telethons and the disc jockey conventions that eventually became the CMA Music Festival.

Mrs. Preston was honored on many stages over the years, including induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.

“Frances was just one of those special individuals you rarely come across in a lifetime,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System.

“She pioneered the successful marriage of music and medicine, working tirelessly to further cancer research and new treatments. Through her longtime relationship with Vanderbilt, and through the T.J. Martell Foundation, her legacy of leadership and philanthropy will live on.”

Memorial contributions may be made to the T.J. Martell Foundation, 15 Music Square West, Nashville, Tenn., 37203, 256-2002 or the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, Tenn., 37240-7727 (c/o Gifts Processing PMB 407727), 936-0233.

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