Mary V. Kurkjian age 66 of Albuquerque, NM, formerly of Bedford, MA passed away peacefully April 30, 2021 after a long illness while holding the hand of her beloved husband of 31 years Stephen P. Hamm.
Mary was born at Ft. Monmouth, NJ in 1954, the fourth and last child of Alice W. (Anhalt) and George A. Kurkjian. Her father was a career Army officer and the family moved often, with Mary living in eight different places and attending nine schools through high school. Her first schools were in the midst of sugarcane fields on Oahu, Hawaii, and her last three schools were in Germany, where she graduated as valedictorian from the Mannheim American High School. Mary loved the beach life of Hawaii and as an adult she returned often for vacation.
With all those new homes and schools, Mary learned how to make friends and she became confident and self-sufficient. Mary was full of energy and drive, tremendously optimistic, kind and caring. There was nothing she thought couldn’t be improved in some way and she was relentless in her efforts to make things better. Even in her final weeks of life when the hospice aide came to help bathe and dress her, she would reach out and straighten the aide’s collar when it was turned the wrong way. Many would say Mary was a force to be reckoned with!
The University of Michigan was Mary’s choice for her undergraduate education. During the summers she interned in Congress for then Speaker of the House Gerald Ford, and she was thrilled to attend the Senate Watergate Hearings. She received a BA with honors and then pursued a masters degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Mary fell in love with the Kennedy School (KSG) and made many deep and lasting friendships among her 41 fellow classmates. She acquired significant insight into the obstacles preventing effective and efficient government. Mary decided on a professional career devoted to making government work, and she spent the next 38 years focused on state government to do that very thing.
Mary began her career working for the Kennedy School as a Director and worked along side Michael Dukakis in creating the KSG Executive Program for State and Local Government. Next she worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts including in Governor Dukakis’ administration. In 1984 she realized the best way to be constantly challenged and achieve her professional dreams was to work as an outside consultant to states; in the following 32 years Mary worked for various technology consulting companies (Unisys, KPMG Consulting / BearingPoint, FAST Enterprises) and independently in 44 states leading teams tasked with transforming state agencies through management, process and technology. Those that worked with her experienced the energy, drive, organization, insight and team success that became her hallmark.
In 1988 Mary met the love of her life at the mailbox of the development they both lived at in Bedford, MA. In 1990 they married and began a too short 31 years of married adventures together. Mary and Steve loved international travel, both having lived in Europe previously. Mary’s global travels totaled 47 countries. She was an avid scuba diver and mountain hiker. The Red Sox were a passion that started with a crush on Nomar Garciaparra and developed into a deep knowledge and appreciation of the game; she was a traveling Red Sox fan to 15 of the Major League baseball parks.
In 2005 Mary and Steve decided they needed some simplification from the overly stressful lives of long hours, long commutes, and too much work travel. They moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where they have remained. They discovered the joy of New Mexico’s high desert weather and recreational opportunities.
In March of 2017 Mary was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a brain cancer with a 14 month median life expectancy. After surgery, radiation and chemotherapy Mary made a remarkable recovery and went into remission for two and a half years. Mary made the most of her time in remission, traveling frequently to see family and friends. She and Steve also travelled to 14 countries, 9 of them for the first time.
When her cancer returned, Mary entered an immune therapy clinical trial at Northwestern University. Although a promising approach, Mary was unable to continue the trial. Little is known of how much the clinical trial may have helped, but Mary lived a surprising 19 months after the reoccurrence of glioblastoma.
Mary received an Outstanding Alumni Award from the Kennedy School in May of 2018 for her long-term support of the Kennedy School. She accepted the award on stage in Cambridge and gave an energetic, optimistic and flawless speech to a few hundred people, none of whom guessed Mary was fighting glioblastoma and had already outlived her life expectancy. When Mary’s classmates learned she had entered hospice, they collectively agreed to establish and fund an endowed scholarship, to exist in perpetuity, the Mary V. Kurkjian Scholarship Fund. Mary was able to understand and give thanks for the honor and tribute from her classmates. In his congratulatory letter to Mary, the Dean of the Kennedy School noted “Through your unwavering generosity and your commitment to public service, you represent the very best of Harvard Kennedy School. We are privileged to pay tribute to all that you have done through the Mary V. Kurkjian Scholarship.”
An astounding 49 months after initial diagnosis, 3.5 times the median life expectancy, Mary succumbed to the cancer with her husband at her side. Mary's energy, spirit, determination, discipline, and good humor throughout her battle with glioblastoma cancer was astonishing.
Mary is survived by her beloved husband Stephen P. Hamm, her loving siblings Jane K. Riley of Annapolis, MD, Thomas G. Kurkjian of La Jolla, CA, and Donald P. Kurkjian of Richland, WA, and her 16 cherished nieces and nephews and their 18 children.
Funeral arrangements through Daniels Funeral home in Albuquerque to be determined. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Mary V. Kurkjian Scholarship Fund at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University or the Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern University.
Web links to charities:
Mary V. Kurkjian Scholarship Fund at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern University