Blazing a Joyful Path

Update, 9/28/16: Karan Kumar receives first Nancy Murphy Endowed Scholarship


In ways intended and unintended, we each influence the people around us in our journey through life. Many people are remembered fondly by their friends and colleagues. But few have left footprints as lasting as Nancy Murphy’s.

Nancy worked at George Mason University for 22 years, beginning in 1989, most of that time on the administrative staff of University Life. Over time she became known as the heart and soul of that division: an essential support for students in need of help as well as an unforgettable character to all who knew her.

“She called herself the 'facilitator of fun,'” recalls Karen Rosenblum, associate professor emerita of sociology and the university’s first Vice President for University Life. “Nancy was always moving forward, being positive. She was a connector of people to people.”

In 2011 Nancy retired and continued her busy life with family, friends, and former colleagues. Patriot spirit ran in the Murphy family, extending to Nancy's son Jim (BA Sociology ’97) and his wife Hope (BA English ’94), who even named their own son Mason.

Nancy died due to complications from cancer—just five weeks after her diagnosis—early in 2016. For a woman who had never taken a single sick day in more than two decades at the office, the onset of illness was swift and sudden. Over the rush of the holidays, many of her friends had not even heard that she was sick. Some learned too late to say goodbye.

Yet although one life’s journey ended, the footprints of that life remain visible. For years Nancy and a group of several colleagues would meet up each day for lunch on campus, usually brown-bagging it at SUB1 or the Johnson Center. The “lunch bunch” became tight friends away from the office as well. For the past few years they had gathered for long weekends at the Madison, Va. home of Kathy Trump. “We would spend several days and nights together, just us—no husbands!” says Trump. “Nancy, of course, was always at the heart of that, organizing the fun.”

In April, a few months after Nancy’s death, the women reunited at the Madison house to honor her life and share memories. “Because her passing was so quick and we never had a chance to say goodbye to her, we gathered and had our memorial service,” says Kathy Trump. The friends planted a tree in her memory. The tree is a crepe myrtle; “Dynamite” is the variety.

The memories are indelible. “Nancy was a 100% extrovert,” says Sally Mohle, a member of the lunch bunch. “She had more energy in her little finger than I had in my whole body!”

Renowned for her unmatched sense of humor, whimsical poems, and a love of reading and golf, Nancy could also be quirky and impatient. She liked to “tell it like it is,” friends recall, and that larger-than-life personality allowed her to say things others would not.

Literally and figuratively, “Nancy was our cheerleader,” says Alissa Karton, a colleague in University Life. Her school spirit, always at its peak during basketball season, was on display when the Patriots reached the Final Four in 2006. As students looked for ways to share the joy, Nancy became organizer-in-chief, arranging for buses to take students to the games and putting together the on-campus parade.

Students were the true beneficiaries of Nancy’s spirit—especially those who came to University Life needing help navigating their college journey. Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP), which provides access and assistance to those who would be the first in their families to attend college, was a special concern. More than 1,000 high school students have completed the EIP, and more than 600 are currently enrolled. Nancy helped guide them, and “those students knew that Nancy really cared for them,” says Professor Rosenblum. “She encouraged them in all ways to be their best.”

A Scholarship and a Path for Students 

Now other deserving students will have the opportunity to find rewarding paths at Mason. Nancy’s friends and colleagues have established an endowed scholarship fund in her name to benefit Mason undergraduates who completed the Early Identification Program in high school. A $1,000 scholarship will be awarded annually to a student who is entering his or her junior or senior year at the university, in good academic standing, and with demonstrated financial need. The goal for the Nancy Murphy Scholarship Endowment is $50,000, and contributions have already reached the halfway mark.

That so many who knew her wish to publicly honor her impact on their lives testifies to Nancy Murphy’s lasting footprints. As her friend Sally Mohle says, “She was extraordinary; a once-in-a-lifetime person. Because she gave so much to so many people, everyone wants to give back in her name.”

RR, June 23, 2016

To Make Your Gift

Contributions to the Nancy Murphy Scholarship Endowment can be made directly to the George Mason University Foundation by check or credit card, by distribution from a charitable fund or IRA, or through a pledge fulfilled over time. Such gifts should be made payable to “GMU Foundation” with a note indicating the gift’s purpose. You can also give online by clicking the button below.

Add Your Support

Additional questions about contributions to the endowment may be directed to Donor Relations at 703-993-8850.