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Phil Ford Foundation Distinguished Professorship of Pediatrics created at NC Children's Hospital

Former UNC men's basketball player Phil Ford listens as Esther Jones, a former school teacher who is pledging $1.4 million to his newly-formed professorship, talks to reporters.

Former UNC men's basketball player Phil Ford listens as Esther Jones, a former school teacher who is pledging $1.4 million to his newly-formed professorship, talks to reporters.

When former UNC basketball star Phil Ford's cousin approached him about starting a foundation, they were not initially sure what the foundation's cause would be. 

Ford, the 1978 national player of the year, remembered bonding with an obese child at a basketball camp, and he asked his cousin to research childhood obesity. 

When UNC pediatrician Dr. Eliana Perrin's name came up on a Google search, Ford thought it was a perfect fit — the opportunity to help his alma mater and his state, as well as address a serious, national issue. 

"It has been an honor for me to work with Dr. Perrin," he said. "I had gotten close to a kid at camp, an obese kid ... it was touching to see how hard he worked, but he was limited by his weight."

On Thursday, Ford, Perrin and former teacher Esther Jones announced the creation of the Phil Ford Foundation Distinguished Professorship of Pediatrics at the N.C. Children's Hospital. The professorship was made possible thanks to a $1.4 million pledge from Jones through a Charitable Remainder Unitrust. 

"Ms. Jones made a donation that we can never repay her for," Ford said. 

Jones, who used to teach in Durham, N.C., and New Jersey, said she decided to pledge her gift after meeting Ford and realizing that children need help learning about their health and how to prevent obesity.

"Now, when I go back to teach and I substitute and I see a lot of (obesity) every day," Jones said.

"They drink soda like water. When the high schoolers go off for lunch and bring back their fast food, you can just smell how bad it is. They walk into my class and I tell them, 'oh please don't eat that in here.'"

Perrin said childhood obesity in a national epidemic threatening the health of our nation's future.

"We have right now in the United States a very toxic food environment," she said. "Kids often come to appointments (at the NC Children's Hospital) with fast food in hand." 

She said while the epidemic affects all social classes, poorer people struggle with obesity the most due to cheaper fast food options in comparison to relatively expensive produce.

"There are fewer options for kids in poor neighborhoods to be healthy," Perrin said. 

Alex Ford, Phil Ford's cousin, is the president of the foundation and said he has talked to Julius Hodge, among others, about addressing the obesity epidemic, especially in North Carolina. 

"Our teams, our children, our future — if we don't do something now, then we are neglecting the health of our future," Alex Ford said.

While Jones' pledge is appreciated, Perrin said she hoped the donation would kickstart other donations so the effort could be expanded on.

She mentioned adding more staff and eventually creating a free standing building for research.

"This is about building healthy good into your life so you feel good and you feel healthy."

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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