MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 13, 2013

Slain professor remembered for ‘gusto’

Chairwoman: She had a great love of life

By Cathy Spaulding

— TAHLEQUAH — Laughter and rousing songs marked the memorial service for Northeastern State University Assistant Chemistry Professor Dr. Tiffany Maher on Thursday.

That’s just how the 38-year-old educator would have wanted it, friends and colleagues said.

“Through the entire building you could hear her laugh,” said Dr. Mark Paulissen, NSU biology professor after the service. “I don’t think I ever saw her frown.”

Dr. April Adams, chairwoman of NSU department of natural sciences, said Maher “just did everything with gusto.”

“She had a great love of life,” Adams said.

Maher was found slain in her Tahlequah home May 31.

A memorial service was held Thursday at the NSU Performing Arts Center.

NSU President Dr. Steve Turner called the service “a celebration of her life.”

And a celebration it was. Pictures of Maher as a blonde girl holding her kitten, as a soccer player, as a chemistry instructor and at a party dressed as “her favorite molecule” showed repeatedly on the screen. Music at the service included “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and “Friends in Low Places.”

A large picture on the stage showed Maher guiding a student through a chemical experiment.

“You can see from her smile she loved what she was doing,” Turner said. “Tiffany Maher lived on the sunny side of life.”

Maher’s younger brother, Greg Maher, said his sister “genuinely loved the NSU family. “

He also recalled how she genuinely loved him.

“Tiffany took care of me when I crashed my bike or needed a ride,” he said.

NSU Dean of Science and Health Administration, Dr. Martin Venneman, said Tiffany Maher used to meet students in their dorm rooms for tutoring. She’d meet them in the library.

“She was a strong advocate for science and science literacy and truly an advocate for students in her classroom,” Venneman said. “And Tiffany never frowned. She was just upbeat.”

Venneman wore a red T-shirt bearing the likeness of Sheldon Cooper, a character from “The Big Bang Theory.”

“She was a strong proponent of ‘The Big Bang Theory,” Venneman said.

Many of Maher’s NSU colleagues wore pins with the letters Tm, the chemical symbol for thulium.

“It is the rarest of the rare earths,” Venneman said. “This is an apt description of Tiffany Maher.”

Maher’s former professors and fellow students also recalled her zest for learning and discovery.

After the service, Daniel Robertson, who went to Missouri State University with Maher, recalled her calm demeanor and “infectious laugh.”

“We were injured in a chemical explosion. It was a waste jug someone had improperly discarded,” said Robertson, now a chemist. “It exploded directly in my face. But she kept herself level-headed in a pretty bad situation.”

Dr. Amy Aldridge-Sanford, NSU associate professor of communication studies, said Maher was both “fearless and humble.”

She recalled how Maher volunteered to judge a middle school speech contest and volunteered to attend an Honor Society ceremony outside of her department.

“She would always make an event special,” Aldridge-Sanford said.

In April, Maher received an NSU Circle of Excellence Award for Teaching. She earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Kansas, a master's degree in chemistry from Missouri State and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Oklahoma State University.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.