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Vaughn, the first lady of UT

Friends recall the Illinois native's energy and honesty. She was 59.

Published January 25, 2007


TAMPA - On a changing campus of 5,300 students and 440 faculty members, Martha Vaughn was constant.

She was the first lady of the University of Tampa, wife of President Ronald Vaughn. But those who know her best say she was more.

She was the blue-eyed woman with bright blond hair who loved to tell stories about growing up in Paris, Ill., and delighted in the silliness of decorating gingerbread houses to raise money for the American Red Cross.

When she was well, Mrs. Vaughn was a bundle of energy with a strong hug and great conversation, her friends said. But by the time she died at 59 on Wednesday (Jan. 24, 2007), her failing liver had taken its toll.

Her one wish was to see her daughter, Susan, 26, graduate from veterinary school at the University of Florida so they could travel to Italy together, friend Joyce Keller, 55, said.

Still, Mrs. Vaughn spent a year and three months waiting for a donor liver that never came. She died at Tampa General Hospital, where she'd been hospitalized for two weeks.

"She was warm and gracious, a natural person, no pretenses, but always very conscientious," said Beverly Austin, a friend who got to know Mrs. Vaughn through her work with the Red Cross and The Chiselers, a UT preservationist group.

Keller said she knew the moment she met Mrs. Vaughn more than 20 years ago that they would be friends. "I call her my soul sister," Keller said.

The Vaughns were high school sweethearts who married and came to UT in 1984 when Ronald Vaughn was named the Max H. Hollingsworth Endowed Chair of American Enterprise. By 1995, he ascended to president.

Mrs. Vaughn retired from the Social Security Administration after the family moved to Florida, Keller said.

The couple opened their hearts and lives to the university community - almost literally. For years, they even hosted an annual faculty gathering at their home on their wedding anniversary, recalled Linda Devine, vice president of operations and planning for the university.

"It'll be hard to see Ron without Martha," Devine said, describing Mrs. Vaughn as having "unvarnished honesty."

A visitation for family and friends will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Vaughn Center.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Plant City, 1107 Charlie Griffin Road.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mrs. Vaughn's name to the Chapel Fund at the University of Tampa or the American Red Cross Tampa chapter.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 00:53:44]

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