Susan Murray, special education teacher and advocate, dies

Susan Lynne Murray, a special education teacher at St. Elizabeth School who had been honored in Baltimore County as education advocate of the year, died Sept. 14 in a single-vehicle accident in the Freeland area of northern Baltimore County.

She was 63 and lived in Glen Rock, Pa.

A Baltimore County Police Department spokeswoman said her car struck a pole and a fence post.

Born in Cuyahoga, Ohio, she was the daughter of Clarence Smrekar and his wife, Walburga. She received both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

She taught students with emotional and developmental disabilities in schools in Ohio and Illinois before joining the faculty of the Hannah More School in Reisterstown, which serves children with similar challenges, in 1986. While there, she established business partnerships in the area in which companies hired students graduating from the school. She worked with students and their parents to create transition plans helping them enter the workforce.

“Susan was always looking for a new path how she could support a student and their parents,” said Bonnie Link, assistant principal of the Forbush School at Glyndon, Hannah More Campus. “She was a visionary of what could be for the special-needs community.”

While at the school, Ms. Murray set up Project Search and Project Employment to help students find employment. In 2012 she was named Education Advocate of the Year by the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities.

In 2013 she became the transition coordinator at St. Elizabeth School, located on Argonne Drive in Northeast Baltimore.

“She was a pillar of the special-needs community and helped countless students and their families during her many years,” said Michael Thorne, director of St. Elizabeth School. “She had a kind persistence and a sense of urgency. She knew, when taking care of our kids, that they did not have time to wait. She worked with students ages 14 to 21 and constantly asked, ‘What more can we do to make the students independent?’

“When she got an idea, she was a force of nature,” Mr. Thorne added. “She was a trusted friend, an esteemed mentor and a dear family member to many of us.”

Erin Upton, principal at St. Elizabeth, called Ms. Murray “a pioneer in the special ed field.”

“She was also unstoppable. She had a spirit that guided her when she felt something could be done to help kids,” Ms. Upton said. “She was a fearless advocate for all her students too. One minute she could be lobbying before the Maryland Department of Education and the next minute she could be diving a student to a dental appointment.”

“She was amazing at connecting with people and discovering their strengths — then using those strengths,” she said.

Ms. Murray was a founding member the Baltimore Itineris Foundation Inc., a Woodberry-based group that supports adults with autism spectrum disorder and works to help them find “gainful employment and to participate meaningfully in all aspects of adult life.”

Ami Taubenfeld, Itineris director, said Ms. Murray was “soft-spoken and kind passionate about helping others.”

She also chaired the transition advisory committee of the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education facilities. She was also a consultant to the Maryland State Department of Education.

“She was tenacious and fun — an organizer who always had her own family in the forefront,” said sister-in-law Winnie Jordan of Westminster. “She lived on a little farm in Glen Rock and we canned and made jelly together. She kept sheep and goats and spun her own wool. She was a simple person who was always busy — and busy for someone else. She was a quiet source of comfort for her family and friends.”

Ms. Jordan recalled her sister-in-law’s ability to establish and tend her vegetable garden.

“She worked at it every day and would be out there with her chickens,” Ms. Jordan said.

Mrs. Murray was also a member of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Manchester.

A memorial gathering will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Fletcher Funeral & Cremation Services, 254 E. Main St., Westminster.

Survivors include her husband of 26 years, Nelson Andrew Murray, a retired Henry Lewis construction foreman; her father, of Cleveland, Ohio; two daughters, Hannah Elizabeth Murray of Hanover, Pa. and Marie Elise Murray of Millersville, Pa.; a brother, Richard Smrekar, of Cleveland; and nieces and nephews.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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