Sam Whichard lost his wife of 41 years to cancer. Now he is fighting the disease. The professional care and personal attention he and his wife received has led him to make a contribution that will further healthcare education in Mississippi.
He is honoring his wife’s memory by establishing the Martha Elizabeth Whichard Endowed Chair of Nursing at the William Carey University Tradition campus in Biloxi.
Whichard, a native of Gulfport and long-time Perkinston resident, said the people of the coastal counties benefit from an abundance of vibrant, growing education institutions such as William Carey University at Tradition, Tulane University, University of Southern Mississippi, and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. “They all make a footprint, and it is evident there is a vision that I do not remember in my youth. I am particularly excited by the multiplicity of health programs intact or in development at WCU such as nursing, physical therapy, osteopathic medicine, and pharmacy. My gift in Martha’s name to WCU is small, but I know that it will be used effectively.”
Whichard believes there are two components to healthcare: professional expertise and empathy. He said professional expertise blossoms with knowledge and a magical empathy that healthcare workers share with those they serve. “Professional expertise is measured by a rigorous certification process. Empathy is measured by the heart,” he said.
“My wife and I have benefitted from health care professionals with a high level of expertise. We understood more clearly their ‘human touch.’ For instance, there was a hospice nurse who patiently sat on Martha’s bed and stroked her face. There was the ER nurse who just recently assured me that I was facing the beginning, not the end.”
Martha Whichard worked for the Stone County School District, and her husband describes her as “a champion for people with Down’s Syndrome and autism.” Mrs. Whichard passed away in 2009, but her enthusiasm and positive attitude are still remembered.
“I met Martha Whichard several years ago, and the impression she left on my life and my son’s life will certainly not be forgotten,” said Tonya Bolton, former Perkinston Elementary School principal. “I will never forget our first meeting. In walks a petite woman with a bright spark in her eyes. She greeted me with enthusiasm and wanted to get right to work. I did not know it at the time, but that was Martha - always ready to lend a hand and get to work on helping our students at Perkinston Elementary to succeed.”
Over the years Whichard served as substitute teacher, volunteer, speech pathologist, mentor, parenting coach, and friend. Bolton said Whichard had a special relationship with children and that her classroom was the first and last place her son visited each day. “He always had a story to tell, and she was always eager to listen. Martha had a special way of bringing out the best in people, especially children and those with special needs.”
Whichard often told Bolton, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, life is too short to worry.” Bolton said. Whichard kept that attitude throughout her illness. “She remained steadfast in her dedication to our students and our school,” she said. “The world lost a beautiful soul when Martha transitioned on. Her spirit lives on in the lives of the students and people she influenced and will continue to impact through this endowment.”
The endowment will help fund the nursing department chair position at the Tradition campus. “We are truly humbled that Sam chose William Carey University to establish this endowment. Martha’s legacy of service to others will be remembered each year as students pursue their dream of a career in nursing,” said Dr. Monica Marlowe, chief advancement officer for William Carey University. “We are honored to have this prestigious position named in Martha’s memory as the first endowed chair on the Tradition Campus.”