September 25, 2012 — It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our friend and colleague, Medscape's Conference News Editor, Martha Kerr.
Martha, aged 57 years, passed away suddenly on September 22. The cause of death has not been made public, but it appears to have been of natural causes.
"It has been a terrible shock to us all," said Medscape Medical News Director Deborah Flapan. Martha had been sick for less than a week.
Martha joined Medscape in 2009. Previously she had worked at Reuters Health and as a freelance medical journalist, and she originally trained as a nurse.
Martha, August 2012
"During her time at Medscape, Martha greatly increased the volume of reporting from medical conferences around the world," Flapan said. She built up coverage from 160 conferences in 2010 to a planned 211 conferences in 2012, with projections for more than 2000 conference news stories in 2012.
"Thanks to Martha working with freelancers to cover conferences, we got some great stories from meetings that Medscape had never previously attended, and some fantastic comments from leading specialists on breaking clinical news," said her colleague Zosia Chustecka, news editor at Medscape Oncology.
"Martha worked extremely hard and was the lynchpin holding all of our conference news together," Chustecka added.
One of the freelancers that she worked with, Deborah Brauser, who is now a reporter for Medscape Psychiatry, said, "Martha was a great motivator for the freelancers she organized. Back when I was covering conferences for multiple specialties, there was a period where I was traveling to back-to-back-to-back meetings. The entire time Martha sent encouraging notes while coaching me along. And she always did it with a wonderful sense of humor, which I've greatly appreciated over the years. Even in the midst of the most stressful situations, she could come up with the perfect smile-inducing phrase."
A Nurse at Heart
Born in California, Martha attended the University of California, Davis, and then a graduate program at the Cornell University School of Nursing in New York City. Martha had been a visiting nurse on and off for more than 20 years and worked primarily with patients in hospice care. Before moving to Virginia last year to be closer to her son, Martha was an emergency medical technician with the East Haddam Volunteer Ambulance Association in East Haddam, Connecticut, for more than 20 years, where she served a variety of officer positions, including chief.
Sarah Masters, managing director of Hartley Film Foundation, who shared a room with Martha in New York when they were at Cornell School of Nursing together, recalls an "amazing athlete" who brought women's soccer to Central Park and who would spend time on the ski slopes on ski patrol in Vermont: "She was so smart, she didn't really need to study," Masters said.
Leaving nursing for medical journalism, Martha and Masters both worked at Physician's Radio Network as well as at an online news service for physicians, GeoMedica, which was run out of Masters' attic before it was bought by Reuters Health in the mid-1990s. "Martha had an acerbic wit and was deeply funny. She had an interesting eye on events in the world," said Masters.
Another colleague from those "attic days," and now a frequent contributor to Medscape, is freelance medical journalist Megan Brooks. "Martha was an incredibly talented medical news reporter and editor," she said. "Her onsite coverage of medical meetings made you feel like you were right there with her. She was a great scene setter, storyteller, often when reporting very difficult, technical data."
Tributes to Martha have been pouring in from her Medscape colleagues.
"Martha was a consummate professional, but with a wry wit and self-deprecating humor and a no-nonsense, take-it-on kind of attitude that probably arose from her earlier nursing training.... [She was] a truly supportive and helpful colleague, but foremost a mom, always happy to talk about her kids and their accomplishments," commented Susan Jeffrey, news editor of Medscape Neurology.
"She had amazing eyes and she wore blue better than anyone I ever met," said Caroline Cassels, news editor for Medscape Psychiatry. "She was warm and funny and treated everyone with respect. We will all miss her terribly."
"Martha was a super-capable, no-nonsense newswoman. But she was also supersensitive, with big expressive eyes that took in a lot," says Nick Mulcahy, senior journalist at Medscape Oncology. "I delighted in her pithy hilarious emails that were stress busters...she was a truth-teller, not afraid to have an opinion and generous with feedback."
Copyeditor Leanne Ridgeway, who is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, says: "Although I never met Martha in person, we were in daily contact over the past few years thanks to email and Skype. I can't think of a single day that she didn't make me laugh out loud as I sat at my computer. The fact that she saw the humor in even the most stressful situations made my job so much more enjoyable."
She speaks for many of us when she adds: "I will miss her every day."
Martha is survived by her son Walter, 26, and daughter Carson, 24, as well as a sister and brother and both parents. She was immensely proud of her children and was delighted when they were home for a spell. In a recent email to the group she said she was taking a few days off "to cook and clean up after my kids who are coming to visit, and couldn't be happier about it!"
Services have not yet been announced. Queries may be directed to Deborah Flapan.