Celebrating Life: Grateful Patient Leaves a Legacy for Cancer and Cardiovascular Research


Brian Annex and Tom Loughran

Bob Tanner kept a handwritten note in his wallet that read, “I would like my legacy to be a celebration of life by helping to alleviate the pain and suffering of people in general!”

Tanner, who survived several heart issues before succumbing to pancreatic cancer in May, made his life’s goal a reality through his estate, leaving more than $6 million in his portfolio to establish the Robert Edison and Hermie Tillman Tanner Medical Research Fund to support general cancer and cardiovascular research at the UVA School of Medicine. Both Tanner and his wife Hermie, who died in 1997, were grateful for the cardiology and cancer care they received at UVA.

“This support will advance research programs that address Bob Tanner’s goal of alleviating pain and suffering for patients,” notes Brian Annex, MD, chief of UVA’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “Bob Tanner understood that research is critical to advance patient care and that it can be extremely difficult to attract federal or peer-reviewed support for novel, paradigm-changing research in its early stages. His legacy will lead to new ideas and big discoveries for patients at UVA and around the country.”

Tanner, who served in the U.S. Air Force and worked for Bell Atlantic for 34 years, was keenly interested in advances in medical science. He took the initiative to learn and better understand diseases, what’s required to develop treatments, and how he could make a difference. His curiosity led to deep discussions with physicians about different medical conditions whenever he had the opportunity. Even in the late stages of his battle with cancer, Tanner never gave up satisfying his curiosity about medical matters.

Today, researchers in UVA Cancer Center strive to better understand the causes of cancer and to develop innovative ways to detect, diagnose, treat, and prevent it. The National Cancer Institute-designated center is recognized as a leading institution for basic cancer research, particularly in cancer cell and molecular biology.

The UVA Heart and Vascular Center is equally poised to make tremendous strides in heart care. Clinical and basic research studies are already under way to investigate a wide range of areas, including non-invasive cardiovascular imaging, heart rhythm abnormalities, heart failure, heart transplantation, vascular medicine, and interventional cardiology.

The Tanner Medical Research Fund will allow UVA to stay at the forefront of developing innovative treatments and therapies for cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

“Mr. Tanner was a humble man whose gift will make a profound difference in the lives of UVA’s cancer and cardiology patients,” says Thomas Loughran Jr., MD, director of UVA Cancer Center. “It was an honor to know him, and we are grateful that he has left this generous gift to help us better understand cancer and heart disease, and to continually work to find the best treatments. His legacy is in good hands.”

Reprinted from UVA Health Foundations’s PULSE, Fall 2016 (

Filed Under: News and Notes, Research

Tags: ,