Former Harpeth Hall leader dies at 84

Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 6:14pm
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Idanelle McMurry, pictured in Harpeth Hall's 1979 yearbook, which was dedicated to her.

Harpeth Hall School this afternoon announced the passing of Miss Idanelle "Sam" McMurry, head of school at the all-female academy for 16 years during a formative period in its history.

McMurry, 84, died in her hometown of Cookeville, where she had recently moved after retiring to Nashville in 1989. She had been in declining health for some time and had suffered a stroke over the weekend.

A 1943 graduate of Ward-Belmont School, which was a predecessor of Harpeth Hall, McMurry achieved Phi Beta Kappa honors at Vanderbilt University, where she earned both her B.A. and M.A. degrees before taking a post as an English teacher at Abbot Academy in Andover, Mass., where she taught until 1950, according to her listing in Who's Who in America. She later taught and served as a dean at three schools in Texas.

Harpeth Hall recruited her from Houston's Kinkaid School in 1963 to take over from founding headmistress Susan Souby. According to a history of the school produced by a group of alumnae in 2001, McMurry arrived there to find no alumnae office and no records of the whereabouts of graduates from the first 12 classes after Harpeth Hall was founded in 1951. Setting to work on fund raising almost from scratch, she oversaw the creation of a development office that raised $1 million for a new library that opened in 1966.

McMurry led the creation of Harpeth Hall's middle school in 1968, and in 1973 she presided over the launch of "Winterim," a program that allows students to pursue off-campus and even international educational experiences every January. Winterim continues at Harpeth Hall to this day.

McMurry gained national exposure for Harpeth Hall through her involvement with such educational organizations as the Southern Association of Independent Schools and the National Association of Principals of Schools for Girls (serving as president of both). She later chaired the National Association of Independent Schools.

"She helped mold the young Harpeth Hall into the strong and vibrant school it is today and brought national recognition to Harpeth Hall through key leadership roles in private education to which she was elected," current Head of School Ann Teaff said in Thursday's announcement. "Above all, 'her girls' appreciated her intelligence, her gifts of leadership and motivation, and the friendship she enjoyed with them through the years.”

McMurry remained at Harpeth Hall until 1979, when she departed to take the helm of the Hockaday School in Dallas. In the 1980s, she was a trustee of the non-profit Educational Records Bureau, and she continued to be involved with several other educational and charitable groups into the current decade.

A memorial service is to be held at Harpeth Hall, but arrangements are presently incomplete.