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duke dress barn

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLISóCritics who say the N.C. Research Campus won’t provide jobs for Kannapolis natives haven’t met Mary Lou Perry.
Perry grew up in Kannapolis and graduated from A.L. Brown High School. She’s the first person Duke University hired for its Kannapolis office.
“Who would have ever thought that Duke would have an office in Kannapolis?” she said. “It’s absolutely been a godsend for me.”
Perry’s parents, Clayvan and Mary “Bunnie” Hawkins, worked in Cannon Mills for a combined 80 years. Perry herself interviewed Charles A. Cannon for a junior high English assignment.
Cannon gave her an autographed picture.
Now, Perry works for the MURDOCK Study, a groundbreaking health project named for the man who bought the abandoned textile plant, demolished it and is turning it into a biotechnology center.
David H. Murdock wants to make Kannapolis, once a world leader in textiles, a world leader in biotech. He gave Duke $35 million last September to launch the MURDOCK Study.
About that same time, Perry needed to get home.
She was living in Durham, working for the Duke University Health System. For an extended time, Duke had provided a flexible schedule that allowed her to drive back and forth to Kannapolis twice a week while her father underwent dialysis.
After he died, she needed to move home to care for her elderly mother.
Perry had heard that Murdock was turning the mill into a biotech park and that Duke was going to be part of it.
“I thought it would be too good to be true,” she said.
She drove by the Dress Barn in Cannon Village one day and saw a sign announcing it as the future home of the MURDOCK Study and the Duke Translational Research Institute.
She sent a resume and soon was dining at Restaurant 46 with Victoria Christian, chief operating officer for the Duke institute, and a tableful of doctors.
Perry got the job.
Now the administrative assistant for the MURDOCK Study, Perry and three women who will run the study are set to move into the renovated Dress Barn March 1. All currently work from home.
“Sometimes you feel like you look back through your life and see that there was a reason for each step of the way,” Perry said. “That’s my journey back to Kannapolis.”
Duke’s Kannapolis team also includes:
– Dr. Ashley Dunham, community health project leader.
Dunham, a Salisbury resident, will lead the effort to enroll thousands of Kannapolis and Cabarrus County residents in the study beginning July 1.
She will oversee clinical operations in Kannapolis and Cabarrus County and direct the community health and engagement aspects of the study.
Dunham received a masters of science at the University of South Carolina and completed a PhD in public policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she received the distinguished dissertation award in the social sciences for her research on the treatment of mental health.
– Melissa Cornish, business development project leader.
Cornish’s job is important because Murdock’s $35 million gift only funds the study for five years, yet investigators anticipate conducting research for decades, possibly following several generations of the same families.
That will cost millions more.
Cornish, who lives in Lake Wylie, will find funding opportunities and partnerships to extend the life of the study.
Cornish received her masters in public health from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She most recently worked at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, where she led a team that developed funding strategies.
– Laveina Dash, study clinical research coordinator.
In the early days of the study, Dash will work closely with Dunham to inform and engage the Kannapolis and Cabarrus County communities. As the study progresses, she will recruit physicians and oversee the selection of clinics that will participate in the project.
Dash also will manage regulatory and quality aspects of the study.
A Concord resident, Dash most recently worked for the Duke University Health System overseeing clinical research studies at the Sarah Stedman Nutrition and Metabolic Center.
Contact Emily Ford at eford@salisburypost.com.

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