A new scholarship aims to keep the memory and dreams of a Mercer University student alive and help others follow in her footsteps. Martha and Sonny Murphy have established the Martha Ann Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund in honor of their daughter, who died from a chronic illness on June 4, 2020, at age 27.
“There will never be another one like her, but I think she would be proud,” said her mother, Martha. “I think she would love that we’ve done this for her.”
This is the first endowed scholarship for Mercer’s clinical psychology doctoral program, for which Martha Ann was a second-year student at the time of her passing. A degree in memoriam was awarded to Martha Ann during the College of Health Professions’ hooding ceremony in Atlanta in May.
“Her academic efforts, compassion, insights and contributions have left a significant impression on the faculty, staff and students in the College of Health Professions,” Dean Dr. Lisa Lundquist said during the ceremony. “The (Doctor of Psychology) faculty note that she brought great academic rigor and excitement to her studies, was a passionate student and voracious reader, and embodied the spirit that we want in our students with her love of learning.”
Martha Ann was a true intellectual who pulled for the underdog and advocated for people all her life. From early on, she was precocious, articulate, curious and competitive, her mother said. She was a talented swimmer and traveled all over the country with Dynamo Swim Club, where she still holds an all-time top 10 record in the 200-meter backstroke, until the diagnosis of a congenital heart defect put an end to that chapter when she was a teen.
Marth Ann read and wrote constantly and was the valedictorian of her graduating class at Atlanta Country Day School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Oglethorpe University and taught art and AP psychology at her former high school before starting the doctoral program at Mercer.
“She wrote to understand her place in the world,” said her older sister, Dr. Sharon Augustine, assistant dean and associate professor of education for the Tift College of Education. The pair bonded over a shared love of writing and reading, especially Harry Potter. “The ideas that she thought, the books that she read, the people that she knew … it’s like she took all of that and she tried to make sense of that through her writing. She was on a journey to understand people.”
Martha Ann had hundreds of books, and she was eager to share her collection with others.
“Martha Ann was a voracious reader who continually brought new materials into the classroom discussion,” said Dr. Craig Marker, chair of the Clinical Psychology Department. “In my individual meetings with her, I would leave with many new articles and books to read.”
One of Martha Ann’s last wishes was for her books to go out into the world, so people could experience what she had through them, Martha said. Stacks of books were set out at her Celebration of Life service, and family and friends were encouraged to take some to read and pass on.
A fiercely independent, persistent and detail-oriented person with high standards, she devoted her full focus to any goal she set, Dr. Augustine said. She wasn’t accepted to Mercer’s clinical psychology doctoral program the first time she applied, so she worked hard to increase her volunteer experience and was accepted when she reapplied.
“She really wanted this,” Dr. Augustine said. “That always impressed me with her. She was really excited to be on this career path. There was urgency behind it. Once she was in that (program), she was obsessed with it.”
Her deep interest in understanding human psychology and first-hand experiences as a patient led her to the path she was pursuing. She was already predisposed to helping people in need, and she figured out how to channel that into the perfect career setting, Dr. Augustine said.
“Martha Ann had a unique perspective on the health care field in that she had personal experience with health crises that did not have any psychological integration,” Dr. Marker said. “This experience led her to want to advocate for psychology’s inclusion into health care.”
There’s often a lack of communication between specialists in different doctor’s offices and hospitals, and patients and families feel helpless when they are in the middle of that, Martha said. Martha Ann had been through that countless times, as she visited doctor’s offices and hospitals often because of her congenital heart defect. She wanted to ease the burden on others by coordinating with all the parties involved in patient care. While at Mercer, her clinical experience included time in the transplant unit at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, where she worked with patients and families facing life-changing medical procedures, Dr. Marker said.
“From going from one specialist to another, she developed a real patient advocacy mantra and decided that’s what she wanted to be … the (person) in between the doctor and the patient to help that communication,” said her father, Sonny. “She felt like she had a gift and a calling to fill that space.
“Nobody can take her place, but she can inspire other people to go down the same road that she was starting. Maybe we can get several Martha Ann-like people out in the advocacy and filling an important place in young people’s lives.”
After Martha Ann’s passing, her parents started talking right away about what was most important to her and what they could do to honor her and continue her dream. Creating a scholarship in her memory was at the top of their list, they said.
Dr. Marker said the endowed scholarship will help to continue to develop students who, like Martha Ann, have a passion for clinical psychology and its integration into other health care professions.
“She had an expansive mind that I think would have been really important in the field that she wanted to go into,” Dr. Augustine said. “She always was hopeful, even in the end. … The great thing about her scholarship is that someone will be able to carry that on for her. But it will also be the heartbreak, because she figured it out and didn’t get to do it.”
To make a gift in support of the Martha Ann Murphy Scholarship, contact Paul McClendon, director of Development for the College of Health Professions and College of Nursing, at 678-547-6453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.