Marion Murray, 81, of Wayne, a prominent spinal cord researcher who cofounded the Drexel University College of Medicine Spinal Cord Research Center, died Sunday, Sept. 9, following complications of esophageal cancer.
Dr. Murray led spinal cord research at Drexel for more than 30 years. Her research focused on neuroplasticity and its relation to recovery of function after spinal cord injury. She published more than 150 scientific articles and reviews, and along with her colleague Michael Goldberger helped introduce more patient-focused practices for spinal recovery, said Itzhak Fischer, chair of the department of neurobiology and anatomy at the College of Medicine.
"She was in every way a special person," said her husband, Justin Snow, an artist who has a studio in Norristown. "To put it simply, what Marion did throughout her life was make better the lives of everyone she came in contact with."
The couple met as neighbors and married in 1998, on a beach in Scotland.
Born in Evanston, Ill., Dr. Murray graduated from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va. She earned an undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montreal, then received a doctorate in physiology at the University of Wisconsin. She completed her postdoctoral work in anatomy at McGill, and in neurobiology at Rockefeller University in New York. She worked as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. In 1973, Dr. Murray and Goldberger both left Chicago for Drexel.
"Her idea was to come with Michael to generate a department," Fischer said. "They were great colleagues. They both were interested in a field not many people were researching."
There, Dr. Murray cultivated a culture of friendly collaboration, Fischer said. He recalled her hospitality, often inviting faculty and students to her house for meetings and serving home-cooked meals.
Dr. Murray was awarded the National Institutes of Health Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, the Fogarty Fellowship, and, most recently, the Reeve-Irvine Research Award. She served on the editorial boards of scientific journals such as Experimental Neurology and Journal of Comparative Neurology; on scientific review committees, including for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and as the scientific director of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, one of the major private foundations focused on spinal cord injury, Fischer said.
When she wasn't researching, Dr. Murray played tennis and the flute, listened to classical music, and was an avid skier. She loved being part of a ski competition at an annual Winter Brain Conference in Colorado. And she was good at it — so good that Fischer joked that her colleagues were celebrating when she moved into a higher age bracket and they no longer had to compete with her.
"She won medals," said Snow.
In addition to her husband, Dr. Murray is survived by stepchildren Kim, Shelby, Joshua, Julia, and Oliver Snow, and a brother.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at Drexel's Queen Lane Campus Student Activities Center, 2900 W. Queen Lane. The department plans to dedicate and rename the spinal cord research center in Dr. Murray's memory.
Contributions to an endowment in her honor "to provide support for students and young investigators in the field of spinal cord research" may be made payable to Drexel University and sent to the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, 2900 W. Queen Lane, Philadelphia, Pa. 19129, with a note designating the contribution to Dr. Murray's memorial.