Families have imploded for far less. But Mickey Beckerle would not have it. A devout Catholic, now left alone to run the family, she clung to her faith and her work ethic. Using her training as an RN, she went to work full-time as a nurse at the high school and as the girls got older and college loomed nearer she took on a second job, working the 3-to-11 shift at a nursing home.
“My mom could do what seemed impossible,” says Mary. “Raise a family of three kids by herself, hold down a full-time job, then hold down another full-time job, and take care of us all. She had a very, very powerful influence on me.”
The clear message was that everything was possible, and no one got a free ride. All the girls worked their way through school. Besides being a Girl Scout and participating every summer on the local swim team, Mary found jobs in a bakery, in a library, at a Howard Johnson restaurant and as a lifeguard.
But school, above all, was priority one. Says Mary: “Mom always gave us this message of how important it was to focus on education, learn all we could, and have a career. If she hadn’t been able to work, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Mickey Beckerle, still driving her own car and as self-sufficient as ever in her mid-80s, looks back on her raising-the-family years with a certain amount of incredulity. She is equally proud of all her girls and their accomplishments — Bobby is a first-grade teacher and Jeanne is a surgical nurse. “But I don’t quite know how I did it,” she says. “I honestly don’t other than I prayed a lot and did the very best I could do and that’s all you can ask. I have very high expectations of myself and I think I probably put those on the girls. I wanted them to be good people and they rose to the occasion.”
Any trouble from the teenage girls? Nothing significant she can remember.
“I could count on one hand the incidents with all three of them. The middle one, Bobby, was the perfect child, never did anything wrong, never got in trouble. Mary Catherine and Jeanne every once in a while, but not often because I had a ‘no’ look and the girls knew it. They still talk about my ‘no’ look. As the oldest, Mary Catherine did like to be in charge.”
To illustrate that point, Bobby, who teaches first grade in Connecticut, likes to pull out a snapshot that was taken at a birthday party when she was a little girl. The photo shows a big-eyed Bobby wearing a bewildered look as she stares at her presents while Mary Catherine is opening them.
But that was then and this is now. A grownup Bobby gushes as she talks about her older sister: “She’s a born leader, very bright and talented, and she’s the most modest person despite her incredible accomplishments. .
"And to think we shared a bathroom!”
Adds Mickey: “We’re all in awe of what she’s achieved. She always excelled and it came easier academically for her, but she is the very same person we always knew. She’s never blown her own horn. Some people are very brainy but they act it. I don’t think she does at all.”
Getting from New Jersey to Salt Lake City was not a straight line. Thanks to a generous academic scholarship, Mary first went north to Wells College, a small, private all-women’s (at the time) school in upstate New York. Clutching her bachelor’s diploma four years later and conflicted about whether she wanted to specialize in science or medicine, she delayed deciding between grad school or medical school and got in her VW Bug and drove south to Dallas, where she spent a year doing cellular biology research at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Science won. From Dallas she enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she obtained her Ph.D. in molecular biology. Then it was back across the country for post-doctorate studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where, while playing volleyball, she met David Murrell. They would marry after she had crossed the country yet again and settled into her first professional job at the University of Utah.
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