Talbott honored, humbled by cancer center naming

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Tom Betts, left, hugs Danny Talbott during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at the Danny Talbott Cancer Center at Nash UNC Health Care.


Staff Writer

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Danny Talbott achieved a great deal of success and acknowledgement as a star athlete during his high school and college career.

However, Talbott, 73, said having his name inscribed on the recently opened 16,100-square-foot Danny Talbott Cancer Center on the campus of Nash UNC Health Care is the type of recognition that he treasures over anything else that has happened during his lifetime.

“This is the greatest honor that I’ve ever received, and I’ve never been so surprised in my life.” Talbott said. “This is a town that has been so good for me all my life. I look forward to what the center will do in this part of North Carolina.”

Talbott’s story is no secret in the Twin Counties — he has been known as a hometown hero. Talbott was a three-sport standout at Rocky Mount High School and most notably the star quarterback that led the then Blackbirds’ football team to the 1962 4A state championship. He was also a linchpin on Rocky Mount’s basketball and baseball state championship teams.

Talbott later started at quarterback for three years for the North Carolina Tar Heels’ football team, including earning First Team All-ACC honors in 1965. Talbott also earned all conference honors at UNC as a baseball player and was inducted in the 2003 North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Talbott’s professional athletic career included playing one season of minor league baseball in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, then he later spent three years backing up Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgenson for famed coach Vince Lombardi’s Washington Redskins.

But life off the playing field hasn’t been easy for Talbott, which also has been well-chronicled over the years. For the past seven years, Talbott has been a patient at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, suffering from multiple myeloma, a cancer of a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell, that primarily affects the bone marrow and can cause patients to become anemic.

Physicians said the disease can also destroy bones, lead to kidney failure, increase risk of infection and raise calcium. Reports said it was bone pain that led doctors to diagnose Talbott with multiple myeloma. Marion Barnes, a long-time close friend and former teammate of Talbott in both high school and college, who also is a cancer survivor, was congratulated by several people for the speech he made during the ribbon cutting of the cancer center.

Barnes said he remembered how Talbott got a little emotional when he learned about the cancer center being named after him. 

“When they asked him what they wanted to do, Danny teared all up and I knew right there how much this mean to him,” he said. “I’ve seen him fight this thing for seven years, and everybody knows how sick Danny is right now. It just means a lot to me for him to be honored like this because this new cancer center is impressive and it’s going to help so many people in this area and surrounding counties that don’t have to drive a long ways for treatment.”

At the ribbon cutting, a group of between 20 to 25 of Talbott’s friends and former teammates came for the celebration. With Barnes spearheading the charge, the group organized the 1960’s UNC lettermen Team 10 fundraising campaign in support of the cancer patient assistance fund.  

The cancer patient assistance fund helps between 500 to 600 patients diagnosed or treated with cancer at UNC Cancer Care at Nash each year — 20 percent of people diagnosed need some level of financial assistance, hospital officals said. 

Stacy Jesso, vice president and chief development officer of the Nash UNC Health Care Foundation, said the Team 10 theme was in honor of Talbott’s jersey No. 10 at Rocky Mount High and UNC. Jesso said the 1960’s UNC Letterman Team 10 raised $63,227.

“It’s important to make this a grassroots campaign and encourage everyone in the community and beyond to support Danny as well as a great cancer program,” Jesso said. “For a cancer patient, you truly need a great team, and this will be a multidisciplinary clinic where you can go and see all of your team in place.”

Among Talbott’s old friends and teammates who were part of the campaign fundraiser that came for the ribbon cutting included Wrennie Pitt, an attorney in Winston-Salem who played halfback with Talbott on the Blackbirds’ state championship team. Pitt also went on to receive a scholarship with Talbott to play football at UNC before an injury cut short his football career.

“Danny is a great friend and wonderful and humble person, who undoubtedly was one of the great athletes to come from this area,” Pitt said. “We’re all just glad to help contribute to this important cause because we all know Danny has gone through a heck of a lot. To have this facility named after Danny just shows how much of a great all-around guy he has always been.”