St. Jude employees take pride in their work and many times, they inspire family members to join the mission. This Mother’s Day, we highlight a few family members who have followed in their footsteps.
Laura Key of Pathology remembers when St. Jude was just a “tall brown building and a parking lot.” The clinical translational scientist paid regular visits to campus as a child with her late mother Linda Woodruff, who worked at the hospital for 27 years before retiring in 2008.
Woodruff began her journey at St. Jude as a lab technician. Her passion for research allowed her to gain notable recognition among her peers.
In 1991, Woodruff helped find a novel surface antigen MKW in childhood acute leukemia. According to Laura, the W in MKW stood for Woodruff. “Some of the discoveries that she conducted the original research on, we are doing in the clinical lab today,” Key said. In the following years, Woodruff was listed as an author in more than 11 publications, which, as her daughter suggests, is “remarkable for a research technician.”
The former St. Jude employee’s legacy, however, extends beyond the discoveries she made. “Everybody liked my mom,” Key recalled. “She reserved a smile for everybody.”
Because she (Linda Woodruff) was so respected and admired, everybody assumed that I was just good as she was. When I applied, Geoffrey Neale, PhD, took a chance on me, and I've been here ever since.
Key believes Woodruff’s reputation at St. Jude helped her land a job as a research technician. “Because she was so respected and admired, everybody assumed that I was just good as she was,” she said. “When I applied, Geoffrey Neale, PhD, took a chance on me, and I've been here ever since.”
Adapting to a scientific environment was no easy feat for the English major. Key's mother helped ease her transition into the role, offering continuous mentorship and support. “Everything I was being trained to do, my mother would simply excel at,” Key said. “When I was struggling with cell culture, she taught me how to do it.”
Key believes working at St. Jude allows her to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “As a legacy employee, I am proud to say that we have helped support the mission of the hospital,” she said. “I definitely feel a sense of pride in being able to carry her torch.”
Onika Smith and her son Nick Foster realize the importance of their daily interactions with St. Jude patients. Each encounter is an opportunity to impart a measure of positivity into a difficult experience for hospital families.
Onika, a patient representative in the Outpatient-Infusion Clinic, and Nick, a satellite server in Food Services, share that upbeat outlook in their approach to work.
“If I greet them in a positive way and converse with them, I feel like that sets the tone for their appointment and maybe for how the rest of their day might go,” Onika said.
Onika is in her second stint at St. Jude. She rejoined the team in January 2021 after previously working at the hospital from 2006 to 2010. As a patient representative, Onika is the first person patients see when they check in for their outpatient appointments. She answers phones, directs patients and families to their proper locations and jumps in as needed for special requests.
I get to interact with all different types of people each day, and I take my job very seriously. I enjoy making someone’s day a little better.
Nick’s role in the hospital’s Kay Kafe takes on a different flavor. His interactions with patients and families are often quick as he grills their lunchtime requests for grilled cheeses, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. Ensuring food is prepared with care is something he takes seriously. Just as important to him is greeting each person and making their dining experience pleasant.
“I get to interact with all different types of people each day, and I take my job very seriously,” said Nick, who joined St. Jude in November 2021. “I enjoy making someone’s day a little better.”
Onika finds immense joy in having her son work under the same roof. Nick tries to stop by to visit her at the end of his shift. It’s a special moment that Onika looks forward to with pride.
“It warms my heart that my son is able to give back in some kind of way because our whole goal is to be there for our patients and families,” Onika said. “We want to help in some way and to know that we are both doing this together feels good.”
As a young woman, Megan Murphy looked up to her mom Sandy Murphy, a St. Jude nurse practitioner, as a source of strength and inspiration. Now a St. Jude nurse practitioner herself, Megan is grateful for the chance to work alongside her hero while being one to other young girls.
“Growing up, I saw how hard my mom worked throughout nursing school and thought to myself I could never be a nurse,” said Megan, who works with Sandy in the Department of Surgery. “Then the first week of my freshman year of college, I changed my major to nursing because I saw how much my mom loved working at St. Jude as a nurse practitioner.”
Megan said she fell in love with nursing and St. Jude in college while shadowing her mom at work during spring break. Megan worked as a nurse extern on the Bone Marrow Unit at St. Jude during her last year of nursing school and then worked as a registered nurse on the Bone Marrow Transplant unit for five years.
When she graduated from nurse practitioner school in 2018, a nurse practitioner position opened in Surgery. She has been in that role since July 2019.
“Between orthopedics and plastics, we have a lot of mutual patients, and it has been fun to work with my mom to coordinate those joint cases. Our milestone years also have lined up, and it has been fun to celebrate those together.
Each of the Surgery Department’s five nurse practitioners have a different specialty. Megan focuses on Ear, Nose and Throat, and plastics, and Sandy specializes in orthopedics.
“Between orthopedics and plastics, we have a lot of mutual patients, and it has been fun to work with my mom to coordinate those joint cases,” Megan said. “Our milestone years also have lined up, and it has been fun to celebrate those together.”
Prior to joining St. Jude, Sandy worked for 20 years at various advertising agencies in Memphis, became a registered nurse and worked for a few years as a nurse at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. She started working at St. Jude in 2008 after earning a Master of Nursing degree as a family nurse practitioner.
“I love working at St. Jude—by far the best job I’ve had. I’m happy that Megan is also able to work at St. Jude in the same role,” Sandy said. “It’s humbling to hear that my experience at St. Jude was such an influence on her career decision.”
For Jennifer Mason, May Chung and William Chung, supporting the St. Jude mission is a family affair.
“My mother has been with St. Jude for 32 years. She has been encouraging me to go into health care since I was six years old,” said Mason, a pharmacist.
She recalls her mother May Chung, a lead researcher, starting work in the research lab of William E. Evans, PharmD, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
“I remember hearing magical and mysterious words like ‘methotrexate’ and ‘pharmacokinetics’ and recall spending one Christmas in the flag building lobby playing my new Gameboy while waiting for my mom to finish her shift,” Mason said.
I take comfort in knowing that everything that I do at St. Jude is contributing to the well-being of our patients. Nothing will make me happier if you tell me one of our patients is well and going home.
Mason’s father William Chung is a senior trial documentation associate who has worked at the hospital for 18 years. He explained that before he worked for St. Jude, he would drop off and pick up his wife every day. Sometimes, he brought along Mason after picking her up from school.
“Whenever we arrived early, Jennifer loved to shop at the gift shop, and Janice Ivory, who still works there, would patiently show her all the items,” he said. “When Jennifer started working at St. Jude, we met Janice again, and she said she still remembered the little girl who started shopping there when she was six years old. This shows the kind of impact the kindness of a St. Jude employee can have on a young girl.”
Now that they are all St. Jude employees, Mason and her parents see the real impact they make on patients and families every day.
“I take comfort in knowing that everything that I do at St. Jude is contributing to the well-being of our patients,” May Chung said. “Nothing will make me happier if you tell me one of our patients is well and going home.”
Mason said it makes her happy to see how dedicated her mom is to her job and family. May’s commitment to a full-time career in health care helped send Mason to private school, college and pharmacy school.
“My mom has always given me that extra little nudge I needed to go in the right direction,” she said. “She has inspired me to believe that I do not have to choose between having a career and having a family. I can find a balance between both.”
Mason has a nine-year-old son, and she hopes that one day he will follow in her footsteps. His grandparents are hopeful as well.
“If it happens that he will work for St. Jude in the future, it would be the third generation of our family,” William Chung said. “Maybe then we can write another story.”