Murph’s Journey

By Connie Barnard

Murph’s Journey

People watchers might speculate that Marilyn Fore is a fashion model, a film star or jet setter. Surely, the tall, striking blond with a flair for glamour couldn’t be a college vice president with multiple degrees and 30 years of distinguished experience as an educator and administrator. Dr. Marilyn Murphy “Murph” Fore, however, is that and much more. As Horry-Georgetown Tech’s Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, she oversees instructional programs at the college’s three multi-faceted campuses and serves as its chief operational officer. She also functions as President in the absence of Dr. Neyle Wilson who said of her: “I consider Dr. Fore the most talented Chief Academic Officer in the S.C. Technical College System.”

Murph is eager to tell readers about the Early College, an innovative program which on May 18 will celebrate its inaugural graduation. Drawing from all nine Horry County high schools, the four-year program is designed for students who thrive in the goal-oriented, career-qualifying environment of HGTC, rather than a traditional high school setting. Fore’s pride is obvious as she describes the program’s first group of graduates: “Of the 130 students who started with us four years ago, 101 will graduate this year. Of those, 21 will also receive associate degrees by the end of the summer.” Murph’s smiling face briefly turns somber as she says, “This is important to me in a very personal way. As a young person, I needed a program like this. I could so easily have slipped through the cracks.”

Marilyn Murphy Fore was born in Ohio but never lived anywhere for very long. Her father, an itinerant bricklayer with a bucket full of personal, emotional and financial problems, constantly moved his family in search of work. “We usually lived somewhere an average of six months. There was no family car. We traveled by public transportation, lived mostly in public housing and used food stamps to get by.” Her mother held the family together doing clerical work, especially during the harsh Northern winters when bricklayers had no work. “Needless to say,” she adds, “there was not much opportunity to make friends or excel in school.”

Eventually, her father’s fragile hold on life broke, and he became permanently disabled. The family moved to Ekins, West Virginia, to live with Murph’s paternal grandmother, who owned a large boarding house which catered to prosperous businessmen. She ran a very tight ship, allowing no female visitors – with the one exception of a piano teacher. A stately, professional woman who always wore a black dress and high heels, her grandmother became a significant role model for the young girl and a lasting impression as the first person to encourage her to try to go to college.

Her senior year of high school, Murph’s parents moved again, but she chose to stay behind and finish school. She made her own white dress for graduation then chose not to attend the ceremony because she’d have no family members present. She did, however, receive an amazing graduation gift: a $1,000 check for college, donated anonymously by a neighbor who’d recognized her potential.

In 1967, Murph headed off to Fairmont State College, where she enjoyed a sense of belonging and made close friends for the first time in her life. It was a heady environment in which Murph, like many others, majored in social life for a while. However, her grandmother’s death during her junior year affected her deeply. Remembering that strong example, Murph re-evaluated her goals, became involved in student government and, by graduation, was recognized as a campus leader. College taught Murph that she was not bound by the confines of her early life.

In the summer of 1971 several of Murph’s sorority sisters got jobs waiting tables in Myrtle Beach. They called her to say teaching jobs were available and encouraged her to join them. When she arrived, Murph learned that the teaching positions were federally mandated to integrate schools in Georgetown County. She was hired as assistant librarian, audio-visual coordinator and cheerleading coach at Choppee School under Principal Maudest Squires who, like her grandmother, ran a very tight ship. Despite the social unrest of the times, Murph had great respect for Ms. Squires and felt accepted by students and staff. She recalls taking her cheerleaders home from athletic events late at night and claims she still knows every back road in Georgetown County. In order to help support her parents, Murph worked two additional jobs, one as elevator operator and medical coder for Georgetown Hospital, the other as a teacher in the adult education program at the Horry-Georgetown Technical Education Center.

This small part-time evening job changed Murph’s life forever. She had found her passion: to educate and help elevate students much like herself. Three years later, when Ms. Squires left Choppee School, Murph took a full-time teaching position at the Georgetown Center. The following year, in 1975, it became part of the newly founded Horry-Georgetown Technical College, the institution to which Murph has dedicated her time, energy and talent for the last 30 years. She moved from the classroom to an administrative position in 1983, acquiring two master’s degrees and a doctorate along the way. In 2007 Murph also received an honorary doctorate for public service from Coastal Carolina University.

Fore’s imprint is evident in every aspect of HGTC’s academic and physical growth. She designed and initiated 45 academic programs and supervised their development on the college’s three campuses. Among these are distance learning online classes, international placements and innovative learning opportunities, such as one in March in which a group of students and faculty traveled to London during their spring break. She also helped design a number of campus buildings, including the Richardson Art Gallery, the Robert Speir, Jr. Healthcare Center and the Carmen Catino Executive Dining Room. In tribute to her many contributions, the Grand Strand campus science building was named in her honor.

Murph says credit for her success as a student, teacher and administrator should be shared with leaders across the community who stepped forward to mentor her at a time when opportunities for women were just opening up: “I feel very fortunate that throughout my life, others have recognized my abilities and helped me open doors to new challenges. I poured myself into each new opportunity, at times perhaps to fill deep voids in my personal and spiritual life.”

Coming from a family of atheists, Murph grew up believing strength could only be found within herself, yet since childhood she sensed the need to rely on a greater power. “I didn’t know what prayer was,” she remembers, “but as a child I resorted to it when I was so desperately poor. I recall on a dark, snowy night when all seemed to be terribly wrong in life, I went to my room and prayed for help.” No quick miracles occurred, and after a while Murph gave up on God: “For years I wandered through the darkness – clinging to new found material success and personal relationships that made me feel successful, while I continued to feel empty deep within.”

The miracle Murph prayed for that dark night did occur, but not on her timetable. In 1991 she married Fred Fore, a very successful college president and industrial leader in the state. Fred introduced her to his church, Belin Methodist, where they were married. For the first time in her life, Murph felt part of a warm and loving family. Today she refers to the church as her “binoculars” because it keeps her focused and her “vitamins” for the strength and nourishment it provides. Through her marriage to Fred, Murph was blessed with a real life family as well, Fred’s two adult daughters, Lee and her family who live in Hartsville, and Lori who lives in Florence. She says, “Only one who has known such emptiness can appreciate how rich and full my life is today.”

Murph recognizes that her life experience helps her connect with others struggling to stay afloat. Clearly, it has fed her passion for Horry-Georgetown Tech and the contribution technical colleges make to communities across America: “A technical college gives individuals from all stations in life a step toward self-actualization, whether it is a first step or a last one. For many students, it is a smaller, more affordable school environment in which to discover who they are and where they want to go. For others, it is a stepping stone to a larger university. For others still, it is a last chance. Many very bright young people, for a variety of reasons, choose not to achieve in high school. A technical college provides an opportunity to start afresh. One of our students with an associate degree is now deciding whether to complete his studies at Harvard or George Washington University.”

Fore points out the tremendous challenge of instructing such a diverse student population: “A typical class will contain a 17 year old in college for the first time, a 30 year old seeking a better life and a 50 year old wanting a second career. Faculty members must care for every student, personally and professionally, and continuously place the carrot farther out. The impact technical schools have on society is equally significant,” she continues. “They are the bedrock of our communities. seventy percent of all jobs require a two year degree. The Myrtle Beach area relies on our college to produce a qualified work force in law enforcement, medicine, construction, hotels and restaurants, just to name a few. Can you imagine what the impact would be if we did not have these programs?”

Today the future seems bright and full of promise for Horry-Georgetown Technical College, its 8,000 students and for Marilyn Fore. She continues to work hard, paying forward the promise of hope. Describing her contribution, President Neyle Wilson said, “Murph deserves as much credit for the growth and success of this College as anyone.”

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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5 Responses to “Murph’s Journey”

  1. mary cannon clark says:

    Murph,,
    You’ve come a long way baby!! I am so proud of all your accomplishments. You definitely have excelled in your academic career and have found your faith and family with Fred.
    Looking forward in seeing you in October and reconnecting with you and other Alpha Xi’s.
    MC

  2. Barb Bishop Napple says:

    Murph,

    What an inspiring life story! I had no idea of all that you had faced growing up, yet I’m sure that those circumstances gave you the compassion and the drive to be all that you are today. May you continue to be blessed for all the ways you have helped others reach their dreams. I can’t wait to see you in October.
    Barb

  3. Frances Testa Wade says:

    Murph, what an inspiration you are! You have accomplished so much in your life and certainly deserve all the accolades you receive and are about to receive at Fairmont State. I’m looking forward to seeing you again at Homecoming in October. It will be such a great reunion for all of us. Alpha Xi Love,
    Fran

  4. Melissa Martin says:

    I enjoyed the article about Murph! Murph, God has so blessed you and your availability. I live in Ohio and attended college in WV. The poverty is real and heart-breaking. I too, had an encouraging grandma who was kind and compassionate. I believe in the power of education to change lives.

    I’ve also vacationed at Myrtle Beach, SC, when my daughter was small. It’s an awesome place!
    Melissa

  5. Linda Dayton Thompson says:

    Murph! How exciting it is to see what you have accomplished. You were always someone who gave to others with grace and poise. Because of your passion for excellence in education you have made the lives of countless others better! I am so proud of you! Congratulations! Linda

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