When the Public Benefits from Tragedy

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Vera Purser

Tragic Deaths in the Family

My day came on March 23, 2005. My older brother called me to tell me that our mother and only sister, the youngest of the four children, had been senselessly killed in an accident involving a commercial carrier. In the subsequent months as we learned more about the circumstances, the kindest thing I can say about their deaths is that they had their lives stolen on a beautiful clear day on a rural North Carolina road.

Dealing with tragedy of this magnitude is no easy task. There is anger, grief, denial, self-abuse, self-pity – and the list goes on. Most importantly though, all these emotions require energy and the mental and physical toll can drain you and leave you hollow. I quickly learned that re-directing that energy can be the best use of emotions and might benefit those of us left on this earth. I realized that in the midst of tragedy you look for opportunity, not feed a negative drive. This is where the public benefits from tragedy comes in.

We are exposed to tragedy every day we pick up the newspaper or watch/listen to news broadcasts. It is part of life. We feel a vicarious twinge when we see the misfortune others experience but usually put the paper down or turn the TV or radio off and go about our day. Maybe we feel lucky or fortunate that we aren’t the subject of the tragedy. And sometimes our luck or good fortune runs out and we have to come to terms with a new norm.

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Sister Ann

When the Public Benefits from Tragedy: a Memorial Scholarship

My first act was to join with my nephew, Caleb Hannan, in endowing a memorial scholarship in the name of Vera & Anne Purser with the Jeannette Rankin Foundation. Based in Athens, Ga., JRF provides scholarships for low income women over the age of 35 who have been accepted to or are attending college or accredited vocational schools. Both my mom and Anne had attended college after turning 40 and used education to achieve their goals. Mom fulfilled her childhood dream of being a nurse and Anne found her mission in life with her educational degrees working with pre K children. Scholars of the Rankin Foundation reflect a determination and grit that mom and Anne would recognize immediately and I am proud to be serving on the board of directors of JRF. Since 1976, we have awarded over 800 scholarships valued at over $1,000,000. These hard working women use determination and will power to help themselves, their families and their communities. It is a fitting memorial of two of the sweetest people I will ever know in this lifetime.

Road Safe America

I also serve on the board of directors of Road Safe America, a group focused on improving the safety on our nation’s highways. Founded by Steven & Susan Owings after the tragic death of their son Cullom, RSA is focused on improving highway safety for truck drivers and everyone else sharing the road with these big rigs. We understand the consequences of poor and insufficient training, lack of oversight and putting profit before the public or their own driver’s safety. I feel very fortunate to be part of a group that will benefit the health and well-being of all using our nation’s highways.
My involvement with both organizations is born out of a tragedy I never thought would occur. I hope my contributions will make a difference and encourage you to take a few minutes to visit both websites and evaluate both organizations missions.

Thank you.


  1. We regret your loss of your mother Vera and sister Anne. Your gift of your time and treasure honorin Vera and Anne helps other women change their lives. What an awesome and inspiring gift of love.

  2. In awe of that anwser! Really cool!