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Fred Eshelman, Pharm.D., receives an honorary degree during the 2017 Commencement ceremonies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
Fred Eshelman, Pharm.D., receives an honorary degree during the 2017 Commencement ceremonies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Fred Eshelman, Pharm.D., was recognized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an honorary Doctor of Science at the University’s 2017 Commencement held May 14.

The University awards honorary degrees to people who have rendered outstanding service to humanity in the world arena, in our nation, in the American South or in North Carolina; people who have made outstanding contributions to knowledge in the world of scholarship; people whose talent and creativity in the world of the arts has enriched lives; and people whose devotion to and support of the University merits the highest recognition.

CNN’s Brooke Baldwin was the Commencement speaker, but Eshelman offered his own advice for graduates.

“Never stop learning, in your profession or your life,” he said. “Don’t take things at face value necessarily. Turn them around 180 degrees, and see if you missed something.”

The honorary degree is not the first time the University has honored Eshelman for his contributions. The Board of Trustees awarded him the William Richardson Davie Award, the board’s highest honor, in 2009. He is also a recipient of the Distinguished Service Awards from UNC-Chapel Hill and from the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“I have been very fortunate in my career to be surrounded by smart, dedicated folks with great attitudes and focus. Watching them grow and take flight is what it’s all about,” Eshelman said. “As for me personally, being recognized by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is as good as it gets.”

Eshelman has contributed nearly $140 million to the School since 2003, including a historic $100 million gift in 2014 — the largest in the University’s history and for any pharmacy school. The gift created the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, which provides the School’s faculty, staff and students with new resources to engage in timely, opportunistic, creative, risky and innovative work across the entire mission of the School and University. The School was named for Eshelman in 2008.

“The University is critical for the growth and well-being of our state, as well as its image nationally and internationally. It is also one of the largest economic engines in North Carolina,” Eshelman said. “Supporting the School has enabled Dean Blouin, the faculty and students to take the School to the pre-eminent position in the U.S., nurture cutting edge research and change our profession for the better.”

In May, the Triangle Business Journal honored Eshelman with a CEO of the Year Award. He is currently chair of the Medicines Company and is the founder of Eshelman Ventures, an investment company primarily interested in private health-care companies. He is perhaps best known as the founder and former CEO and executive chair of Pharmaceutical Product Development, the Wilmington-based contract research organization that helps drug companies develop and test new drugs. After PPD was sold, he served as founding chair of Furiex Pharmaceuticals, a company spun out of PPD that licensed and rapidly developed new medicines. Forest Labs/Actavis bought Furiex in 2014. Eshelman has also held management positions with GlaxoSmithKline, Beecham Laboratories and Boehringer Mannheim Pharmaceuticals. He was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2016.

Eshelman has served on the executive committee of the Medical Foundation of North Carolina and was appointed by the N.C. General Assembly to serve as a member of the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors where he chaired the audit committee. He also chairs the School’s Board of Visitors and has lectured at the School as an adjunct faculty member.

In 1972 Eshelman received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from UNC and later earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Cincinnati. He is a graduate of the Owner/President Management Program of Harvard Business School.

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