Some of Albuquerque’s most prominent leaders paid their respects to Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the University of New Mexico’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, as she begins her transition into a new role at the prestigious Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic.
During an event hosted by the Economic Forum of Albuquerque Wednesday morning, New Mexico politicians and business leaders ranging from Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller to Roberta Ramo, the first female president of the American Bar Association, highlighted Willman’s accomplishments and her impact on the city and state.
“What Cheryl Willman has accomplished for the university and for our community really is nothing short of spectacular,” said Albuquerque advertising executive and longtime friend Debbie Johnson.
In May, Willman accepted an offer to become the executive director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Programs and director of the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center. Willman said the new position will take her all over the country, but she plans to maintain roots in New Mexico.
“There is so much potential here, it’s incredible,” Willman said. “People just need to come here and see it.”
Willman served as the leader of UNM’s Comprehensive Cancer Center for more than two decades, building the cancer center into one of the most prominent in the nation. Under her leadership, the cancer center became one of the nation’s preeminent National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a designation reserved for the top 3% of cancer centers in the country, according to UNM. During the event, Ramo, who is also a lawyer with Modrall Sperling, praised Willman for developing a center that can be a point of pride for New Mexicans.
“In New Mexico, we have too few people who believe that New Mexico deserves … world-class institutions,” Ramo said.
Keller added that the cancer center is the number-one thing he brags about when speaking with representatives from other cities.
“It does so much more than just (saving) tens of thousands of lives,” Keller said. “It actually lifts up our entire city.”
With that in mind, Keller declared that July 14 will be officially recognized in Albuquerque as a celebration of Willman’s impact on the community.
Behind her effect on the city as a whole, Willman has impacted many Albuquerque residents individually. During the event, Johnson, who serves as executive marketing director for Albuquerque Publishing Co., spoke passionately about how Willman helped her husband after he was told he had 90 days to live. With Willman’s assistance, Johnson said her husband was able to live another three years.
“I will always be grateful for that,” Johnson said, fighting back tears. “And it’s so meaningful, because I know I’m not the only one.”