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Dartmouth willing to rename Norris Cotton Cancer Center

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 19. 2018 7:49PM

MANCHESTER — The CEO and president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock is defending the health care organization’s decision to sell the naming rights to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, named after the late New Hampshire senator who was instrumental in securing a $3 million federal grant in 1970 to build rural New England’s first regional cancer center in Lebanon.

“I think Norris Cotton would be thrilled if we got $100 million to improve cancer care in New Hampshire,” said Joanne Conroy in an interview with New Hampshire Union Leader editors and reporters.

The pitch for a major donor was announced as part of a $3 billion capital campaign launched in the spring. The campaign is being conducted in cooperation with the Geisel School of Medicine, which partners with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to run the center.

The Geisel School has set a $250 million goal of which $100 million has been tagged for naming rights to the Norris Cotton center.

That idea has raised a few eyebrows and voices of opposition, including from Thomas Barry, a retired circuit court judge and now an attorney with the Stein Law Firm in Concord. He also worked for Sen. Cotton in Washington, D.C., during his last term in office, from 1969 to 1975.

“I think it’s a travesty,” he said of the plan to rename the center. “They can certainly raise money without selling the senator’s name. But for Senator Cotton, the cancer center wouldn’t exist.”

When it first opened in 1972, the cancer center consisted of a two-story underground facility for radiation therapy and related laboratories and services. It was financed in large part by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare through the National Cancer Institute.

According to a history of the center on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock web site, “Sen. Cotton became convinced that there was a need not only to improve Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital’s cancer treatment facilities but also to establish a regional cancer center, and from that moment on he dedicated himself unstintingly to obtaining HEW funds for this purpose.”

“Sen. Cotton was an advocate for health care in rural New Hampshire,” said Barry. “He grew up in Warren, and when I worked for him in the Senate he was doing everything he could to get newly minted doctors to work in rural areas in New Hampshire. He also helped the medical school get accreditation.”

Cotton, who died in 1989, did not have any children, so the defense of his legacy at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is left to former associates and friends like Barry, who says Cotton advocated for the center in many ways beyond federal funding.

“When state of the art equipment for treating and diagnosing cancer was held up by customs, he secured its release for delivery and installation at the cancer center,” he said.

If Dartmouth-Hitchock is fortunate enough to find a donor willing to pony up $100 million, the health care system would find another way to honor Cotton’s legacy, according to Conroy.

“His name would never go away,” she said. “We’d find another way to honor him in the existing organization.”

In the months since the capital campaign was announced, there have been no offers on the naming rights.

“This is a lot of speculation,” said Conroy. “We haven’t identified donors with such a commitment that we would even have the conversation yet about changing the name. We’re looking for a transformational gift and they are few and far between. But we do not want to (ignore) a transformational donor who could accelerate the science and advance the care.”

As one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers nationwide certified by the National Cancer Institute, Norris Cotton Cancer Center also operates satellite locations in Manchester, Nashua, Keene and St. Johnsbury, Vt.

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