Andy Quattlebaum loved the outdoors and animals, especially his beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Oak.
He was an active, engaged student at Clemson University in 2019 when he died unexpectedly at age 22.
His parents, Don and Hayden Blackwell Quattlebaum, of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, were devastated. As a way to honor their son and channel their grief in a positive direction, they looked for special opportunities to provide meaningful and lasting support for Andy’s greatest passions.
One of those special opportunities resulted in the establishment of the Andy Quattlebaum Distinguished Chair in Infectious Disease Research at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.
“This fulfills our goal for our family foundation,” Hayden Quattlebaum says. “It’s perfect because Andy would want us to do it.”
Professor of Internal Medicine Adam Birkenheuer is the recipient of the Quattlebaum Chair. Birkenheuer is an internationally recognized expert on vector-borne infections of dogs and cats, most commonly spread by fleas, ticks and lice.
The Quattlebaums’ gift of $500,000 combined with other private contributions and matching funds from the R.B. Terry, Jr. Charitable and the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund is $2.67 million, enough to surpass the $2.5 million threshold required to establish a distinguished chair position.
Birkenheuer’s is the second distinguished chair at the CVM. The first was awarded to Natasha Olby, the Dr. Kady M. Gjessing and Rahna M. Davidson Distinguished Chair in Gerontology.
“Through their generosity, the Andy Quattlebaum Distinguished Chair will be able to honor Andy’s love for animals by putting their needs first,” says Birkenheuer.
Birkenheuer has a passion for infectious disease research going back to the beginning of his career. He soon found that lack of funding for research could be a major obstacle to progress.
“I realized that there were many gaps in what we knew about infections that primarily affected dogs and cats,” he says, “and there wasn’t a lot of funding available to solve the many problems we faced. Despite those challenges we were able to scrape by with small grants, creativity to answer a lot of questions.”
Birkenheuer says the distinguished chair will make a significant and lasting impact.
“That amount of money in an endowed fund would not only generate enough funding to support a large portion of a research program for one person’s career, it would create a legacy that would support our mission and college excellence forever,” he says.
The Quattlebaums were there on Aug. 11 for the formal presentation of the distinguished chair professorship to Birkenheuer held outdoors on the hearth of the college’s campus. Friends, family and colleagues gathered for the ceremony, which included remarks from CVM Dean Paul Lunn and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.
“We are so grateful that Don and Hayden decided to remember and honor their son with this generous gift that will help many other animals and people through infectious disease research,” Lunn said. “And I could not be prouder of professor Birkenheuer’s accomplishments. This chair is the best way to recognize his selfless commitment to veterinary medicine, and to ensure that infectious disease research remains a strength for years to come.”
Woodson also reflected on the far-reaching impact of the Quattlebaums’ donation.
“I would like to thank Don and Hayden Quattlebaum for their investment in NC State and this important research, and for choosing to honor their son in such a special way. We are humbled to be part of his legacy,” he said. “Infectious disease research is a key priority here at NC State. This past year has been a stark reminder of how vulnerable our world is to disease and why it is so important to have brilliant science researchers, like Dr. Birkenheuer, working to find new cures, treatments and vaccinations.
“Endowed distinguished professorships and chairs, such as the Andy Quattlebaum Distinguished Chair in Infectious Disease Research, are essential to NC State’s success as a university.”
Thanks to the work of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Foundation, Birkenheuer and the Quattlebaums found each other, and the fit was ideal for each. And each is grateful for what the other is doing.
“When we found out that the chair was for infectious disease research, that was very important to us,” Don Quattlebaum says. “We’ve had issues with Lyme disease in the past. This is a hugely important thing for humans and animals. It’s a way to help the entire world, and we’re thrilled to be able to help with that.”
The Quattlebaums have a long-standing connection with Clemson, which has also been a beneficiary of their generosity, but their connection with CVM is also strong.
“We’ve taken several of our animals to the hospital at NC State over the years,” says Don Quattlebaum, “including Andy’s dog, Oak. They’ve always been very attentive and done fantastic work. The interns and residents provide wonderful care, and they’re obviously very enthusiastic about what they’re learning and doing… It’s a wonderful thing, and the best care any animal can get.”
Animals have been a big part of life in the Quattlebaum family. Over the years, they’ve had six dogs, five cats, two horses and a turtle. The family has arranged for medical care for rescue dogs they have taken in, and even created an endowment to establish a clinic at an animal rescue shelter in Georgetown, South Carolina, several years ago. The clinic not only provides medical care for rescues, but also for economically distressed pet owners.
Helping to establish the distinguished chair at NC State was a logical next step.
“I was very pleased to know how excited Dr. Birkenheuer was. The professor was just thrilled and it brought warmth to my heart,” says Hayden Quattlebaum.
The current pandemic is providing an all-too-vivid illustration of the importance of the kind of research enabled by the Quattlebaums’ gift.
“Endowed funding at this level will not only directly help animals by allowing us to perform companion animal infectious disease research to benefit dogs and cats, it will help us train and support the next generation of clinicians and scientists,” says Birkenheuer.
“As 2020 has shown us, new infectious diseases are always right around the corner or just a plane ride away. Sustainable funding not only allows us to have the marathon-like endurance needed to solve wicked problems we know about, it allows us to be agile and fast so we can sprint to solve new problems that we didn’t even know existed.”
Increasing the number of named and endowed professorships and chairs is a key priority of NC State’s Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign. Since the launch of the campaign, generous supporters have endowed an additional 100 distinguished professorships and chairs across the university to date.
~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine