Scholarship honors nursing alumna

Katherine Wilson '04 (BSN) found out about her legacy last New Year's Eve, just six weeks before she died.

Wilson, diagnosed with lung cancer during her first year of nursing school in 1999, had battled the disease and still managed to earn her degree. She made the decision to invite Hospice Care into her home, and died on Feb. 16, 2005, at age 28.

But on New Year's Eve, two friends of hers, Amanda Womble and David Greer, had traveled from Asheville to Chapel Hill to be with her. They had important news to share.

“We knew her time was getting near,” Greer said.


The news was that they had created a scholarship at the UNC School of Nursing in Wilson's name. And so the Katherine Wilson Scholarship Fund, created and driven by friends of Katherine Wilson, was born.

“In the first 10 days, we raised $10,000 just by picking up the phone and calling people. That might be a little off but not far off,” Greer said. “To me there was never any doubt. My theory on it is, if you hear her story, you'll want to give. If you don't have money, you'll at least want to know how you can help.”

Friends of Katherine

Womble met Wilson at UNC, during Womble's freshman year. They knew each other but didn't become friends until Womble's junior year. They applied to nursing school at the same time, and, in the summer of 1999, became roommates. That fall, they became constant companions—hanging out and studying together.

“I didn't have great friends in high school,” Womble said. “She was the first really good friend I've ever had.”

In February 2000, Womble said, Wilson became sick. She was in bed for a week and had a lingering cough, but she thought it was allergies. She was enrolled in a lab class that semester, so she asked her teacher to listen to her lungs. The teacher sent her to Student Health Services, which sent her to UNC Hospitals.

The next few weeks seemed like months, Womble said. “It felt like all we did was sit around and wait.”

Wilson had wonderful friends even before she was diagnosed, Womble said. Over the five years of her illness, those friends and well-wishers had frequently asked what they could do, how they could help. Several had given her self-help books and offered to cook for her and her family. But sometimes, there was a limit to what anyone could really do, Womble said.

The scholarship provides that something.

“A scholarship is a never-ending gift,” Womble said. “And it's giving back because it's giving back to the nursing and health-care communities. Those communities are one of the reasons she made it as long as she did. I really see it as a huge gift to her. It seemed like the perfect thing to do.”

Technically, it was Greer—Womble's fiancé—who came up with the idea. His father served as president of several colleges, meaning “dinner table talk was endowed scholarships and endowment.”

“I picked up a nursing school mailer that detailed the school's capital campaign, and I thought, this is how we honor Katherine,” he said. “We need to start an endowed scholarship. If we can get 100 people to give $1,000, we could do it.”

When he mentioned that figure, Womble said, “My jaw hit the floor. But he said it was very doable.”

Telling Katherine

When Greer and Womble told Wilson of their plans—and their early success—on New Year's Eve, Womble said she just looked at them and asked, “You mean my name's going to live on forever?”

“It was the best New Year's,” Greer said. “We wanted to see her, and if possible, to talk to her a little bit about the scholarship. We didn't want to make her feel that she was being interrogated, but she couldn't stop talking about it! During that time, she was heavily medicated for pain, and a lot of her thoughts weren't clear, but she still couldn't stop talking about it. She couldn't believe it.”

Their amazing pace has continued. To date, the scholarship has raised $123,850 from 322 donors. Both Womble and Greer called that figure mind-blowing.

Still, Greer said, “We didn't set the goal to miss it. I went into this with the expectation that we were going to hit it, and that was all that was acceptable, really. That was underscored when I saw Katherine on New Year's Eve and how the news just lit her up. She was just glowing about this, about her scholarship.”

“People have come out of the woodwork to give money,” Womble said. “I was blown away that after just a few months, we'd reached our goal. I think it's been a reason for people to give to UNC. It's a great way to get people involved in the scholarship and Katherine, but giving back to the school.”

Greer wants the giving to continue. “We've exceeded our goal, and that's great, but I hope that we can continue to remember her on an annual basis,” he said. “If there are 10 Katherine Wilson Scholars in the School of Nursing, that's great. I do see us one day having more than one, for sure. And that will be a great day.”

By Claire Cusick

For more information on Katherine Wilson and to find out how to contribute to the fund, visit nursing.unc.edu/development/kws/.

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