Lexington, Virginia • June 4, 2009
Washington and Lee University's 2009 Valedictorian Elizabeth Webb ’09, a biochemistry major, will marry her college sweetheart Vance Berry ’09 on July 25 in historic Lee Chapel on the W&L campus.
But one important person will not be there to see it.
Webb’s mother died from the deadly cancer melanoma when Webb was 13 years old. “She had melanoma twice,” Webb says, “once when I was three years old and then it resurfaced in her brain when I was 13. It was very rapid and progressive, and I saw the way she suffered. That event has absolutely inspired my future career.”
Webb says she wants to help prevent other people from going through the same suffering. In pursuit of that dream she will move with her new husband to Australia following their honeymoon. Funded by a Fulbright award, she will research melanoma for 10 months at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. “Queensland has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world,” says Webb, “so it’s the perfect place to study it.”
It will be just the next step in Webb’s quest to conquer the cancer.
Back in the summer of 2008, Webb was looking for an internship when she saw that the University of Colorado Cancer Center offered undergraduate internships in melanoma research. “That sparked my interest,” she says. Webb grew up in Colorado before the family moved to Virginia in 1998. “I actually got to meet my mother’s doctor, and later on he helped me make contacts in Australia so I could pursue my research there.”
Webb says she feels like she is on a mission. “I want to do as much as I can with this,” she says. “I want to be a dermatologist after I go to medical school and then continue researching and hopefully make a dent in melanoma. One of the ideas I’ll take with me from W&L is that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”
“Elizabeth is an exceptional young woman,” says Erich Uffelman, professor of chemistry. “She possesses a wonderful intellect, terrific people skills, and a commitment to excellence in anything she undertakes."
She has already made a start on medical school with an NCAA post graduate scholarship, which she won as a varsity track and cross country runner at W&L. In fact, running is something both Webb and her future husband have in common.
The couple met at a cross country meet in their freshman year. Since then, they have both earned numerous awards for running. Berry even proposed at an indoor track meet at the Armory in New York City. “I was told it was the first proposal in the history of the Armory,” Berry says.
“She had just crossed the line after setting the school record in the mile. She was very tired. I was holding three roses and I had the ring in my pocket. I proposed right there next to the track. Everybody started pointing and there were gasps from the crowd, and then Elizabeth started screaming with excitement...”
It’s a story any mother would want for her daughter.
You can read about the proposal at on the Armory's Web site.