Martha Vaughn, the wife of UT’s president, died Wednesday. The Red Cross volunteer and mother of one had been waiting for a liver transplant.
“The last time I spoke to her, she was so positive and so hopeful about the transplant,” said friend and fellow volunteer Mercedes Karl. “It just breaks my heart.”
Mrs. Vaughn, 59, was rushed to Tampa General Jan. 3 and had been in intensive care until she died at 9:43 a.m. Wednesday.
“She was a loyal supporter of the university,” said Linda Devine, UT’s Vice President for Operations ‘ Planning. Devine said she appreciated Mrs. Vaughn’s honesty.
“You always knew where you stood with Martha, but she was also very kind,” Devine added.
Vaughn was also very down to earth, Karl said. Both women were past presidents of the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross. They were friends for more than 10 years.
“Here was a woman who was the wife of a university president, but she was unpretentious, loyal and generous to a fault,” Karl said. “She gave generously of her time and her treasure.”
In 2001, Mrs. Vaughn received the Halo, the highest award given by the Angels, a fundraising group for the Angel Wings transportation service, which helps thousands of elderly or disabled people get to and from medical appointments.
In fact, Devine and some members of UT’s staff were last able to visit with Mrs. Vaughn in December at her favorite Angel’s fundraiser, the Gingerbread House Champagne Brunch in Fletcher Lounge.
“She was just like a little kid,” Karl remembers with a laugh. “She had two tables, and she just loved that event.”
Mrs. Vaughn was repeatedly described as a kind and giving woman.
As the president was finishing his education, Mrs. Vaughn worked to help support the couple, who moved to Tampa in 1984 with their daughter, Susan.
“I knew that we would be friends when Martha, Susan and Ron came to UT,” said Joyce Keller, an adminstrative assistant in the College of Business, where Ronald Vaughn first worked. Mrs. Vaughn worked for the Social Security Administration.
Keller said Mrs.Vaughn was a great storyteller and had a wonderful sense of humor. Keller was a fellow Red Cross Angel, and the two carpooled to monthly meetings together.
“I will miss her smile, her warm heart, hugs and upbeat personality,” Keller said. “She was my sister at heart.”
Friends said the Vaughns’ life together revolved around the university and service.
“They were a very reserved couple, but always very dedicated to one another,” Karl said. “She was a loving and supportive wife.”
The couple’s only daughter shared Mrs. Vaughn’s passion for animals. The UT graduate is now in veterinary school at the University of Florida.
“Martha was a girl from the farmlands of Illinois,” Devine said. “I’ll always admire her love for her pets and all animals.”
As the president’s wife, Mrs. Vaughn was essentially UT’s first lady, and as her health deteriorated, faculty and staff monitored her condition through e-mailed updates from the president’s office.
President Vaughn, who is described by friends and colleagues as an intensely private man, quietly expressed his appreciation for the kindness and respect shown by the university community, which has been shaped so much by the couple.
“Martha was a strong and steady presence at the university,” Devine said. “Her unwavering support of our work, her unvarnished honesty, and her love of family will be remembered.”
Devine said written condolences may be sent to the Office of the President.