Woody Helped Change Nursing Care

Mary Woody

"You do it with your heart, mind, and soul," honorary alumna Mary Woody once said of nursing.

Mary Woody never lacked confidence. “I knew I could do more than we were ever allowed to do,” she once said of her nurse’s training at Charity Hospital in 1940s New Orleans. Woody, who became a local and national icon in the nursing profession, died on April 28 at her Atlanta home. She was 84.

The youngest of six children, Woody grew up on a farm in Lafayette, Alabama. She worked as a nurse in Alabama and New York City before attending Columbia University to complete baccalaureate and master’s degrees in nursing. In 1956, Woody joined Emory University Hospital (EUH), serving as a nursing administrator for 13 years. Her leadership led to major improvements in patient care, including patient education and implementing the revolutionary principle that all patients admitted should have an RN responsible for their care.

“You manage things and lead people, and she knew how to lead people,” says Jean Copeland 54N, a former nursing supervisor who worked with Woody at EUH. “She worked well with other departments so that nurses could take care of patients and families, work closely with doctors, and not have to focus on activities that didn’t involve nursing.”

Woody remained at EUH until 1968, when she became director of nursing at Grady Memorial Hospital. There she helped create innovative programs, including a diabetes day care program using nurse practitioners, specialized nurse-run clinics, and a patient education program. She also influenced coronary care and intensive care nursing in the South. As nursing care became increasingly specialized, she was one of the first leaders to seek out advanced practice nurses at Grady and later at Emory.


"Mary worked well with other departments so that nurses could take care of patients and families and not have to focus on activities that didn't involve nursing."

Jean Copeland 54N


It was Woody who recruited Elizabeth Sharp from Yale University to found the nurse midwifery program at Grady.

“She understood nursing midwifery and the value of teamwork with medicine and administration,” says Sharp, now retired in Atlanta.

In 1979, Woody became founding dean of Auburn University School of Nursing. She returned to Atlanta in 1984 as director of nursing at EUH and associate dean of the School of Nursing. Together, Woody and Dean Clair Martin established a collaborative model enabling hospital nurses to teach students and nursing faculty to maintain a clinical practice. She also established new roles for EUH nurses in transplantation medicine and pain and incontinence management. She retired in 1993 after serving one year as interim dean of nursing.

Woody continued to receive accolades for her work, including the Living Legend Award from the American Academy of Nursing (1997) and the Marie Hippensteel Lingeman Award for Excellence in Nursing Practice from Sigma Theta Tau International (1999). She also was an honorary alumna of the nursing school.

“It’s working together—nurses, doctors, therapists, pharmacists, families, chaplains—that makes things work,” Woody once said of nursing. “You do it with your heart, mind, and soul.”—Pam Auchmutey


Memorial gifts honoring Woody may be sent to the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Development and Alumni Relations, 1520 Clifton Road N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30322.


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