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Susan Murphy

Susan Murphy receives framed list of contributors to a floor named in her honor.

Susan Murphy hailed for transforming the student experience

Honest. Tender. Determined. Fearless. Extraordinarily persuasive. Incredibly responsive. Fiercely loyal. A good listener and player-coach who always has her priorities straight.

These and many other traits were attributed to Susan H. Murphy '73, Ph.D. '94, by sometimes emotional speakers at her retirement party in Barton Hall April 7. The room was packed with more than 500 colleagues, staff, faculty, parents and past and current students whose lives Murphy touched in her 37-year Cornell career.

Before she became a Cornell legend who in her role as vice president for student and academic services focused the student experience on health and well-being, she was a Cornell undergraduate whose friends called her "Murph."

Murphy just before her senior year at Cornell. Image: Provided. See larger image

Susan Murphy with students

Murphy mingles with students at the 2012 Robinson-Appel Humanitarian Awards dinner. See larger image

At the retirement celebration, President David Skorton announced that the board of trustees had approved "with deepest gratitude" naming the Susan H. Murphy Administration and Health Promotion Floor in the University Health Services facility.

The recognition came from gifts by more than 600 Cornellians who responded to a request by an ad hoc "Thanks, Susan" committee – headed by Ed Butler '63, M.S. '65, Nancy Butler '64, Penny Haitkin '65, Casey Phlegar '15 and Kent Sheng '78 – to show their "admiration and affection" for Murphy. Skorton gave Murphy a framed listing of contributors.

The program also included Murphy's Pi Phi sorority sisters, Sherri Stuewer '73, M.S. '75, and Mary McIlroy '72; Ross Gitlin '15, undergraduate student-elected trustee; colleagues Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources and safety services, and Kent Hubbell '69, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students; Donna Barsotti, a member of the Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Council; and a video message from Robert S. Harrison '76, chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees, and Jan Rock Zubrow '77, chair of the board's Executive Committee.

An undergraduate history major, Murphy earned two master's degrees before returning to Ithaca in 1978 at the age of 26 to become associate director of admissions. She later became the Ivy League's first female dean of admissions and financial aid.

In 1994, Murphy became Cornell's first vice president for student and academic services. "She largely defined the position," Skorton said, "through the extraordinary energy, determination, organizational skills and dedication to student well-being that she has shown throughout her career." In addition to enhancing the quality of the Cornell student experience through the re-creation of North and West Campuses, Murphy "has served as a wise and caring and strong leader … her efforts have brought us closer to being the diverse, inclusive and caring community that we aspire to be," Skorton said.

Susan Murphy with late husband Gerry Thomas

Murphy with her late husband, Gerry Thomas, Ph.D. '78. Cornell is Murphy's alma mater as well as Thomas' and her stepdaughters', "all of whom experienced it in their own way," she said. Image: Provided.See larger image

Gitlin spoke of Murphy's caring for students, especially in the midst of crises, and recognized her for being "incredibly responsive," with a door that was "always open." Barsotti thanked her for the support and time she has given to the Greek community. Hubbell noted Murphy's problem-solving ability "to find a path forward"; similarly, Opperman said that Murphy was "one of the most positive and resilient people I know."

In a video message, Harrison offered his congratulations to Murphy, saying, "For you, it has always been about the students," while Zubrow spoke of Murphy's "great vision," "boundless energy" and "extraordinary leadership."

Said Murphy: "I have been blessed with fabulous mentors." She cited three provosts – Keith Kennedy, Mal Nesheim and Bob Barker – as examples and thanked her colleagues, current staff, alumni and friends.

"But the key – and the reason this is a calling – is because of the students," said Murphy. "They challenge me; they frustrate me at times; they even exasperate me. But they inspire me, they reward me, and they give me great confidence about the future. We are so fortunate to be able to witness their growth, from the time we watch them explore this university until the time they graduate."

Murphy will remain at Cornell in a new role in the Division of Alumni Affairs and Development, assisting with fundraising and alumni engagement, through June 2016.

She concluded: "To my alma mater, I say thank you, I am truly blessed."

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