A new scholarship aims to keep the memory and dreams of a student at Mercer University alive and help others follow in her footsteps. Martha and Sonny Murphy established the Martha Ann Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of their daughter, who died of a chronic illness on June 4, 2020, at the age of 27.
“There will never be anyone else like her,” said her mother, Martha, “but I think she would be proud.” “I think she would love if we did this to her.”
This is the first scholarship awarded for the PhD program in Clinical Psychology at Mercer, for which Martha Ann was a sophomore at the time of her death. Martha Ann was awarded a certificate in remembrance during the Atlanta College of Health Professions Coverage Ceremony in May.
“Her academic efforts, compassion, insights, and contributions have left a significant impact on the faculty, staff, and students of the College of Health Professions,” Dean Dr. Lisa Lundquist said during the ceremony. “The faculty (PhD in Psychology) noted that she brought great academic rigor and excitement to her studies, was an avid student and avid reader, and embodied the spirit we want in our students with her love of learning.”
Martha Ann was a true educator who championed the underdog and championed people all her life. Her mother, Martha, said she was precocious, articulate, inquisitive, and competitive from the start. She was a talented swimmer and traveled across the country with Dynamo Swimming Club, where she still held the top 10 records in the 200m backstroke, until a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect put an end to that class when she was a teenager.
Marth Ann was a frequent reader and writer and was the valedictorian in her graduating class at Atlanta Country Day School. She received her BA in Psychology from Oglethorpe University and studied Art and AP Psychology at her former high school before starting her PhD program at Mercer.
“She wrote to understand her place in the world,” said her older sister, Dr. Sharon Augustine, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Education at Tefft College of Education. The couple was associated with a common love of writing and reading, especially Harry Potter. “The ideas I’ve thought about, the books I’ve read, the people you know… It seems she took it all in and tried to make sense of it through her writing. She was on a journey to understand people.”
Martha Ann had hundreds of books, and was eager to share her collection with others.
“Martha Ann was an avid reader who constantly brought new material to discussion in the classroom,” said Dr. Craig Marker, Chair of Clinical Psychology. “In my one-on-one meetings with her, I would leave with many new articles and books to read.”
One of Martha Ann’s last wishes, Martha said, was to let her books out into the world, so that people could experience what she went through through them. Stacks of books were laid at the service of celebrating life, and family and friends were encouraged to take some to read and pass on.
Strongly independent, persistent, detail-oriented and of high standards, Dr. Augustine said she devoted her full focus to whatever goal she set. She was not accepted into Mercer’s PhD program in Clinical Psychology 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. “I always liked her. She was really excited to be in this career path. There was an urgency behind it. Once she was on it (the show), she was obsessed with it.”
Her deep interest in understanding human psychology and first-hand experiences as a patient led her on the path she was taking. Dr. Augustine said she was already willing to help those in need, and she figured out how to channel that into an ideal professional environment.
Dr. said. “This experience led her to want to advocate for the integration of psychology into health care.”
There is often a lack of communication between specialists in different doctors’ offices and hospitals, Martha said, and patients and families feel helpless when they are in the middle of it. Martha Ann has been through those countless times, often visiting doctors’ offices and hospitals because of her congenital heart defect. She wanted to ease the burden on others by coordinating with all parties involved in patient care. While at Mercer, her clinical experience included time in the transplant unit at Children’s Hospital Atlanta, where she worked with patients and families facing life-changing medical procedures, Dr. Marker said.
Her father Sonny said, “From moving from one specialty to another, I developed a real patient advocacy mantra and decided that this is what you wanted to be… (the person) between doctor and patient to help with that communication.” “She felt like she had a talent and a calling to fill that space.
“No one can replace her, but she can inspire others to walk the same path she was starting. Perhaps we can involve as many people as Martha Ann in the advocacy and fill an important place in the lives of young people.”
After Martha Ann’s death, her parents immediately started talking about what was most important to her and what they could do to honor her and pursue her dream. They said creating a scholarship in her memory was at the top of their list.
Marker said the scholarship awarded will help further develop students who, like Martha Ann, have a passion for clinical psychology and integrate it into other healthcare professions.
“She had an expansive mind that I think would be really important in the field she wanted to get into,” Dr. Augustine said. “She was always an optimist, even in the end. … The great thing about her study is that someone would be able to go on with it for her. But it would also be heartbreaking, because she found out and couldn’t do it.”