Dr. Dulcie Murdock Straughan died December 30, 2023, in Chapel Hill after an extended illness. A beloved wife, mother and university professor, Dulcie was known for her warm and welcoming smile, her generosity of self, and her love of family and friends. A memorial service will be held at a later date in the spring.
The daughter of Ruth Mathieson Murdock and Daniel Sheridan Murdock, Dulcie was born in Ocean Side, Long Island. Along with her sister Sheri, the family moved to Saint Michael’s on the Eastern Shore of Maryland just a few years after Dulcie was born and remained there throughout her childhood and teenage years. It was those serene shores that sparked her lifelong affinity for the water and boating. And it was the example of her mother, a heroic public school teacher who fought for the privilege of an equal education for all of St. Michael’s students, that inspired Dulcie to strive to reach the highest levels of teaching.
During their teenage years, Dulcie and Sheri caused quite a fuss when they decided to protest the school’s dress code by leaving the house with jeans under their skirts and revealing them when they got there. In high school, Dulcie also developed a serviceable jump shot and a deep love for the sport of basketball, both of which she passed down to her children.
Before continuing her education, Dulcie moved to Norway with Sheri to meet extended family and spend two years working and learning Norwegian. This would be the first of many travels abroad in a life that took Dulcie to many distant places around the planet.
Dulcie received bachelor's and master's degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and taught as an instructor at VCU for three years. Along with one other student, in 1978 Dulcie became the first to receive a degree in VCU’s new journalism master’s program, while working fulltime for the Virginia Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, a role she held for five years. She also gained newspaper experience working for a Virginia weekly newspaper. In 1981 she moved to Chapel Hill to seek a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was in the beautiful, vibrant and romantic academic village of Chapel Hill, she met a charming and wild-eyed southern boy named Chris Straughan who would become her partner for life and a father to her children, David and Dani, whom they raised together in Durham, to be quality human beings. Over kitchen tables supporting mac and cheese, pizzas, diapers and dissertation drafts, Dulcie completed her dissertation and received her doctorate in 1986.
In other professional experience, Dulcie was acting manager in media relations and public relations consultant for a major pharmaceutical company based in Research Triangle Park and a part-time public relations director for a Chapel Hill advertising and public relations agency.
Dulcie taught in the public relations sequence in the UNC-Chapel Hill journalism school as an instructor and visiting assistant professor before joining the faculty in a permanent, full-time position in 1990. She became the head of the PR program upon the retirement of her mentor and professor, Dr. Carol Reuss, and served in that role until retirement in 2016. She was the James H. Shumaker Term Professor before being named the James Howard & Hallie McLean Parker Distinguished Professor.
Faculty, especially junior faculty new to Chapel Hill, relied on Dulcie for her knowledge of the School and the University. She advised them on topics from tenure and promotion guidelines, committee assignments, research and creative work, and even day care options. Her door was always open to faculty, staff and students.
In addition to teaching and even creating some of the PR courses still taught today in the school, Dulcie took on administrative and service roles and often was requested as a PR speaker on organizations’ panels for media relations and PR strategy. In the School, she served on numerous committees ranging from the Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Committee to search committees to graduate admissions committee; participated in preparing site team reports for the School’s accreditation process every six years; and advised the student chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She served on University committees, including the Faculty Grievance Committee, Committee on Enrollment Management, Faculty Council, Administrative Board of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Child Care Advisory Committee. On the national level she joined 11 site teams and chaired two other teams in evaluating schools’ accreditation status for the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The list goes on and on.
In administration in the School, Dulcie served as associate dean for undergraduate studies in 2005-08 and as senior associate dean in 2008-2011. She stepped in as interim dean July 1 through Dec. 31, 2011, after Dean Jean Folkerts stepped down and before Dean Susan King took the helm. She returned to the faculty and continued to teach until her retirement. She was named a member of the 2009 Academic Leadership Program in the Institute of Arts and Humanities at the University.
Dulcie oversaw countless students in internships locally and beyond. She advised master’s and graduate students, chairing 55 thesis and dissertation committees, as well as committees for undergraduates writing senior honors theses, and serving on dozens of other thesis and dissertation committees to help students across the degree finish line. Her graduate students won academic awards for their work, including the Arthur Page Case competition. Her students have gone on to teaching careers at universities around the country, to prestigious PR firms and to essential service in nonprofit organizations. Her commitment and dedication with her quick smile and encouragement were hallmarks of her teaching and mentoring students. Her teaching was recognized with the School's David Brinkley teaching excellence award in 1993; the University's Tanner Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching in 1995; and the Outstanding Faculty Award presented by UNC General Alumni Association in 2000. She was also selected as an inaugural member of the Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars at UNC Chapel Hill in 2001.
Her research work has been published in "Public Relations Review," "Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly," "International Communication Bulletin" and "Media History Monographs." Her 2007 book, "Women's Use of Public Relations for Progressive-era Reform: Rousing the Conscience of a Nation," looks at women reformers during the Progressive era and how they used public relations tactics to work for social justice issues for all Americans and at a time when they did not have the vote. She also published research on the NAACP and how the organization used public strategies to bring awareness to its purpose and mission especially during a time of crisis and also on public relations efforts to improve maternal and child health in the early 1900s. She presented papers at dozens of conferences, including the International Public Relations Conference and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and also served as a paper judge for AEJMC.
In her spare time, Dulcie enjoyed spending family vacations at Emerald Isle and Banner Elk, reading and dabbling in photography. In her 50s she joined Carolina Masters Rowing club, training on University Lake and competing in regattas, including the Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Head of the Charles in Boston. After retirement she and her husband moved to the Cedars in Chapel Hill. She was a long-time member of Chapel of the Cross.
As extraordinary as Dulcie’s academic career and contributions to UNC’s institution and students were, her grace and energy allowed her to be much more. Her children expressed it this way –
The world lost a powerful force for joy when Dulcie Murdock Straughan passed away. Dulcie touched the lives of hundreds of people in her 74 years, and despite her long illness, she smiled and laughed her way through her final months and days – just as she lived the rest of her life.
Dulcie was a sister to Sheri, an aunt to Sandy, Blair, Gretchen, and Stacy, and a great-aunt to Lauren. She was a partner-in-crime to Jan, Lois, Anne, and many others; a beloved teacher and advisor to countless students; a ringer of a crew member; an ace seashell and sea glass hunter; and a die-hard Tar Heel basketball fan. Most important to Dulcie, she was a loving and supportive wife and partner to her husband, Chris, and mother and inspiration to children David and Dani. And a friend to every person she ever met.
Today, the world is missing a source of light that warmed and guided an uncountable number of people.
She is survived by her husband and much better man of 40 years; her children; her nieces and nephew; her best friends; and her cat, Fiona. Her parents and sister predeceased her.
Memorials can be made to the Carol Reuss Fund in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media through the School’s website at http://hussman.unc.edu/ and use gift fund number 242472; to the Chapel Hill Public Library at https://friendschpl.org/donation; or to a preferred charitable organization.