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New head ready for his first Gwinnett Relay for Life

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

DULUTH -- Just a month out from his first Gwinnett County Relay for Life, Bill Manson is bracing for the storm he's helping create.

Manson, named the American Cancer Society's executive director for the area last September, has never been to a Relay in Gwinnett. With the help of plenty of volunteers and a veteran steering committee, he's now the head man for ACS' signature event, and said Tuesday that he's excited what it has in store for him.

"It has been exciting, daunting, thrilling," Manson said. "It's been a lot of planning and execution and meetings. We have an unbelievable steering committee that has been doing this for years."

"I've just been able to sort of engage and be an active cheerleader and learn along with them."

Like so many Relayers, Hanson's cancer story is a personal one. His father is a 10-year survivor of prostate cancer, alive and well at 83 years old. His grandmother passed away from breast cancer.

"If she would have been diagnosed with cancer today, she would have been able to lead a normal life," Manson said.

That statement points to a happier notion, one of Manson's pet statistics -- a recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that there are currently more than 12 million cancer survivors in the world, easily the highest total ever.

Manson came to his new position after more than 20 years marketing experience in the Atlanta area, as well as a healthy dose of experience working with cancer-related organizations like the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

He replaced Randy Redner, who spent six years helping build Gwinnett's Relay into the fundraising juggernaut it is today. Knowing not to tinker too much with something successful, changes Manson has helped make are more procedural than anything.

A new emphasis has been placed on improving traffic flow in and out of the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, and an additional auxiliary parking lot will be open this year. Information booths will be located at each entrance, and key buildings will be "renamed" things like Prevention Place and Hope Headquarters.

"We're trying to dial up a friendly experience and wow them from the beginning," Manson said.

As of Tuesday night, 320 teams and more than 5,200 participants had raised over $510,000 for Gwinnett's Relay for Life, a total well on its way to helping the county's event maintain its title as the largest in the world.

According to a post on the event's Twitter account, online fundraising is up 41 percent compared to last year.

As the May 6 date quickly approaches, Manson can only go on what others have told him to expect.

"That I'll be more busy than I know what to do with," he said with a laugh.