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Judy Overton Earns MLA, Discovers New Passion
6/11/2018

University of St. Thomas – Houston Master of Liberal Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies graduate Judy Overton

In 2004, life was good for Judy Overton and her husband Tom. They were raising two boys, Nathan and Matthew, and Tom was director of public affairs at the University of St. Thomas, working toward his Master in Liberal Arts degree.

But when Tom was diagnosed with renal cancer, for a moment their world stopped. After a brave three-year fight against the disease, Tom passed away in 2007, leaving a large void in Judy’s life.

Judy joined the MD Anderson Cancer Center team as a senior communications specialist in 2008. A few years later, she still wasn’t feeling like her usual sunny self, and a colleague suggested she start blogging. In her first post in the Caregiver Chronicles series on the MD Anderson blog, Judy wrote:

“I haven't been myself lately.
I haven't felt like doing much beyond getting up and going to work.
Four-and-a-half years have passed since Tom died. His 58th birthday would have been Nov. 2.
Sometimes I can't believe he's gone. I don't think I'm depressed, but maybe I am. It's all catching up with me.
I've held the fort for so long, and now it feels like my psychological and emotional walls are caving in.”

As Judy expressed her feelings through writing, she gradually rediscovered old passions and uncovered new ones. She continued coursework for the Master in Liberal Arts degree she had already begun. In December 2017, she completed the program and earned her MLA in Interdisciplinary Studies.

“Getting my MLA opened doors to what I enjoy,” Judy said. “It made me realize how much I love art! I think it’s important to be a lifelong learner.”

Getting my MLA opened doors to what I enjoy. It made me realize how much I love art! I think it’s important to be a lifelong learner.

A professor encouraged Judy to apply for a scholarship to support a proposed project, and with that, Judy traveled to France to study the work of Monet, who lost two formidable women in his life, his mother Louise, when he was only 16, and his young wife Camille.

“The trip to France was an amazing experience,” Judy said. “Art has really touched me and stirred my emotions. It’s a passion of mine to learn about these creative geniuses and all the wonders they’ve given us. Exploring and learning about others and yourself is exciting.”

Judy also enjoys an element of creativity in her work. She’s advanced to the position of program manager in the internal medicine division at MD Anderson, with her work revolving around both communications and event planning. She said, “This is the best job I’ve ever had!”

Sharing an Important Message

Judy worked in TV for more than two decades, as a reporter, photographer and anchorwoman. She met Tom in 1977 while he was working in newspaper reporting. Over the years, she’s become adept at broadcasting important messages.

People who come to MD Anderson are often facing the same issues Judy faced when Tom was diagnosed with cancer. Patients are hoping for a cure, and oncologists feel a pressure to provide it.

“The sad reality is that not everyone can be cured, but a conversation about that often doesn’t happen,” Judy said. “My passion is to educate people about their right to choose how to transition out of this life, just as they’ve made decisions about every other important aspect of their lives. This frees family members to celebrate their loved one’s life, rather than struggle over difficult decisions.”

My passion is to educate people about their right to choose how to transition out of this life, just as they’ve made decisions about every other important aspect of their lives. This frees family members to celebrate their loved one’s life, rather than struggle over difficult decisions.

At MD Anderson, a lot of patients are at an acute stage, but often don’t have an end-of-life plan. Judy is focusing on helping people make those preparations. She said, “The greatest gift we can give our family is to let them know how we want to make our transition.”

It’s very touching that Tom’s legacy lives on at the University. When I visit, people who never even met him talk about his goodness and kindness. It’s wonderful that UST keeps his memory alive.

To honor Judy’s late husband, the University of St. Thomas gives Tom Overton Awards annually to staff members nominated by their peers for exceptional service. Judy said, “It’s very touching that Tom’s legacy lives on at the University. When I visit, people who never even met him talk about his goodness and kindness. It’s wonderful that UST keeps his memory alive.”

Want to learn about the MLA program at UST? Get in touch, and we’ll send you more info.