Murphy-McCarthy memorial held in honor of former university president
By Joyce Stevenson
September 7, 2013
No one had more spunk or love of Missouri Western than Dr. Janet Gorman Murphy-McCarthy.
‘She came here one time and I had green and black on and she made some comment about you know ‘Get with the program’ or like that,” Dr. Robert Vartabedian, Missouri Western State University President said. “Where I had came from was green and I had a lot of green I didn’t know what to do with. She said ‘Lose it, lose it” that’s Northwest Missouri that’s their thing.”
Dr. Murphy-McCarthy (then Dr. Gorman-Murphy) became Missouri Western State College President on July 1, 1983. The college wouldn’t earn it’s university status until 2005. She had previously served as president of Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vermont and acting chancellor of the Massachusetts State College System. She was the first woman to be president of a Missouri four-year university.
“She had a cult following among the more progressive women in the community that still talk about that and most of them showed up for her memorial service out of respect for her, my wife included,” Dr. Vartabedian said. “My wife feels strongly about those sorts of issues I think women of that particular belief saw her as a real pioneer.”
Dr. Murphy-McCarthy died May 14, 2013 in Massachusetts after suffering some health issues. She frequently had visited MWSU since her retirement in 2000. She was known for her deep love of students and MWSU.
Howard McCauley, now the dean of Admissions, was the Western Football Coach when Murphy-McCarthy was hired as President. McCauley worked with Murphy-McCarthy all 17 years. He affectionately calls her Dr. Mac.
“She was very much a student centered president,“ Howard McCauley said. “She really fought for the students, she really wanted to help the students.”
McCauley said that Murphy-
“We don’t know how many she helped through either with scholarship or with her own money,” McCauley said. “She was a real trooper when it came to working hard for the students.”
Dr. Murphy grew up in a strong Democratic East Coast home. Her father was a Boston political power and had helped to elect former United States President John F. Kennedy. She enjoyed working with lawmakers in Jefferson City to help the university prosper.
“It was a great time for her to be president,” Dr. Vartabedian said. “At that time the legislative group or general assembly was primarily democrat (and) she was a very strong democrat.”
She was able to procure many state funds during her tenure at Missouri Western which were used for the large expansion of the university campus. Construction of Spratt Hall, Murphy Hall, Vaselakos and Leaverton residence halls, the Baker Family Fitness Center, the Department of Conservation building and the Glenn E. Marion Memorial Clock Tower all took place during her presidency. Blum Student Union, Potter Hall and the Hearnes Center were all expanded during her 17 years.
“She was a real tiger in Jeff City,“ Howard McCauley said.
During her presidency the four-year nursing program, the physical therapist assistant program, the health information management program, the honors program and the Missouri Western Law Enforcement Academy were all established. She led the creation of the Barbara Sprong Leadership Challenge, the R. Dan Boulware Convocation on Critical Issues and Access Plus, a program to better serve under-prepared students, which brought MWSU national recognition.
“We were 3900 students and her goal was 5000. She reminded me monthly and sometimes daily of that goal.” McCauley said.
“The thing about it is that she was right there with me. Whether we were in the cornfields of Iowa, hog farms, cattle farms, talking to highschool counselors, students, whoever she was willing to be there. Or whether we were in St. Louis or Kansas City. She would make those trips with us. She was very involved,”Dixie Hamm said.
Each classroom on campus was equipped with up-to-date presentation technology during her presidency.
“She was here longer than any other president in our history, 17 years, the average is 5 years,” Dr. Vartabedian said. “She lasted longer than the average and certainly had all kinds of other opportunities. A lot was accomplished on her watch, an incredible amount.”
‘I feel like I understood her pretty well or as much as she was willing to let me understand her. I liked her a lot. I got a kick out of her. She did not suffer fools gladly, but was very direct.’
She also worked hard in the community with her husband, Dr. McCarthy, to raise money for the University. They were a good team.
Dr. Murphy-McCarthy retired on June 30, 2000