Too Young: In Memory Commander Marsha Hanly, Nurse Corps US Navy

LCDR Marsha Hanly caring for a patient in the ICU of the USNS Comfort 

“Nursing is an art:  and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit?  It is one of the Fine Arts:  I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”  Florence Nightingale

This afternoon I was stunned to learn that a very dear co-worker and friend from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth had unexpectedly passed away. Marsha Hanly was a ICU Nurse who arrived at Portsmouth about the same time I did in 2008. She had just completed a Master of Science in Nursing at Duke with a specialization in Adult Critical Care nursing.  Marsha exemplified all that is good in nursing and was as devoted to her calling as Florence Nightingale described.

I remember what seem like countless times where I stood beside Marsha as she cared for critically ill or dying patients, comforted their families and helped the other nurses and physicians in the ICU. I also cannot count the number of times that she stood by me as I prayed for patients as they lay in critical condition. She was an outstanding nurse and Naval Officer as well as one of the most kind and compassionate people that I have ever met. She was devoted to her husband and children and to the welfare of those committed to her care. She was funny and joyful person who was real. She was a committed Christian, wife, mother and fantastic nurse. She could laugh and she could cry, she really loved and cared for those that she served.

Last year Marsha deployed on the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort as part of Operation Continuing Promise, a medical mission to the Caribbean Sea, South and Central America. While deployed she was selected for Commander in the Nurse Corps. She returned late in the Summer and in November was diagnosed with Cancer. She underwent successful surgery which left her cancer free but in need of Chemotherapy to ensure that she remained so. She returned to work in late April and began her Chemo this week. Her last post on her Caring Bridge blog ( )talked about how she described what she believed would be the course of her Chemotherapy, side effects and how long it would take. She was looking to the future and even to this weekend with her children. I don’t know the circumstances of her death but imagine that it was a sudden and catastrophic event related to the Chemo in some way.

When I read the news on Facebook, where I keep up with my friends from that ICU as well as so many others in my life I was stunned. As I read the comments of her fellow nurses and my former co-workers, nurses and physicians alike I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I couldn’t believe it because I simply expected this otherwise healthy, young and vibrant woman to sail through Chemo and completely recover. I am so stunned that I cannot believe that his has happened.

This is one of those times where I ask God “why?” I have to admit that I cannot understand this and I have a hard time with the whole “God’s will” thing when things like this happen to people like Marsha. People that devote their lives to caring for others and raising their young children.  I grieve for her husband and kids, I remember her bringing them in to work sometimes.  I pray for her husband Scott and their two young

Likewise I grieve for those who knew and loved her in the Portsmouth ICU. For those that have not been closely connected with those that labor in critical care specialties like a busy ICU there are few places where people bond so closely. Critical Care Nurses and Physicians work in a surreal world where life is constantly hanging in the balance and as a result have a camaraderie that is much like combat soldiers, police and firefighters. This is not just a job, it is a calling, in a sense a sacred vocation. Marsha exemplified the best of her profession and what it is to be a friend.

Even though I left Portsmouth in October 2010 to come to Camp LeJeune I still count the staff there as my friends. We went through a lot together. Many of them were there for me when I was going through difficult times as their Chaplain. Marsha was one of those people. I cannot imagine her not being there when I go back at some point or not seeing her serving and caring for Sailors, Marines and their families somewhere else.

Last week we honored Nurses during National Nursing Week and the anniversary of the founding of the Navy Nurse Corps. Marsha was the best of both. The Nurse Corps has suffered a terrible loss.

Marsha touched so many lives. I know that my former co-workers and friends at Portsmouth are taking this hard. It doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem fair. I have a hard time theologizing deaths of people like Marsha. While I am sure that the Lord has her with him I don’t understand her loss here.  While I fail to understand I do still pray that God must have a purpose and I do give thanks for the honor and privilege of knowing Marsha and working with her. In times like this I find some comfort in the prayers of the liturgy and find this one from the Book of Common Prayer to be one that I can pray in good conscience even when I struggle.

“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Marsha. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Rest in Peace Marsha. Rest in peace.

Padre Steve+


Filed under faith, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans

19 responses to “Too Young: In Memory Commander Marsha Hanly, Nurse Corps US Navy

  1. John Erickson

    I’ve come to believe that cancer is one of those things you can’t blame on God, like tornadoes. They strike without warning, kill some and skip over others, and totally defy explanation. And they always, ALWAYS seem to strike those who deserve it least.
    I have, through my various periods of illness, come to grudginly respect doctors as a group, loving some and hating some. I have ALWAYS loved nurses – they do so much and get so little credit.
    Rest In Peace, Commander. You and your family will be in my family’s thoughts and prayers.

  2. Scott Hanly

    Padre, I don’t have the words to say all the things I would like to say about my amazing wife and incredible being, Marsha. Thank you for doing it for me. I am proud and honored to have been her husband. May she look down upon us every day for she is surely in heaven’s grasp.

    • padresteve

      Marsha was a gem here and you were so blessed. I too am sure that she is in heaven and now helping to look out for the rest of us. I found my words so minuscule in comparison to everything I knew about her. She was awesome. Words cannot express the thankfulness to have known her and worked with her in the ICU, nor can they fully convey my sympathy to you regarding her loss. I cannot imagine what you are going through but will continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I have a picture from Portsmouth in my office. It is signed by many of the people that I worked with. Thursday afternoon before I left from work I pulled it down and read what Marsha wrote. I held onto it quite a while as I gathered myself that afternoon. A number of people that I work with at LeJeune also worked with Marsha. The past couple of days we have spent a lot of time talking about her and all of us are in shock. She made such a huge impact in so many lives. You were blessed.

  3. Shappy

    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. My heart and prayers are with Scott, and her entire family. Thanks for sharing your memories with others who loved her so much as well….

  4. Maggie (Rodee) May

    A lovely tribute to a salt-of-the-earth human being. I had the opportunity and good fortune to know and work with Marsha in Naples, Italy several years ago. I am saddened and shocked by her sudden passing, as I know everyone is. Marsha was a beautiful, radiant soul — kind to everyone and always had a smile. A genuine human being and an excellent nurse. My thoughts & prayers are with her husband, Scott, her two children, as well as with her family, dear friends and Navy colleagues. Rest in peace, dear Marsha.

  5. Susanne LeMaire

    Chaps, thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been feeling this week. I got to know Marsha last year on the USNS Comfort and was stunned to hear of her passing. Making sense of all this is impossible. Your posting provided some comfort-thanks again.
    CDR Susanne LeMaire

  6. Trevor Carlson

    Chaps, Thank you so much for that touched reflection on Marsha. I am putting together an Eulogy for her Memorial Service at the Hospital and would like to use some of what you have said. Her loss is tragic and words just can’t explain how wonderful of a person we have lost. Thank you for providing us with some comfort in this devastating time.
    God Speed,
    LT Trevor Carlson

    • padresteve

      LT Carlson,
      Feel free to use whatever you need. I am praying for all of you that have lost such a dear friend and co-worker…

      • Francine

        LT Carlson
        When is the service at the hospital?

        We all loved Marsha and know she is now in heaven watching over us.

      • padresteve

        I heard from one of our physicians down in Camp LeJeune that it 8s Wednesday at 1100 at NMCP. Not sure if that is accurate but what I was told here.
        Padre Steve+

  7. Shawn R Passons

    What an eloquent description of a person who definitely epitomized Navy Nursing and blending it with family. I had the pleasure of working with her for a few years at NMCP. It is heartbreaking to know she will no longer physically be with us. Please note my most heartfelt condolences to Scott and her family. Thanks for sharing your memories of such a lovely person.
    LCDR Shawn R Passons

  8. Ingrid Byles

    Thank you Padre Steve for your beautiful words. My heartfelt sympathy and prayers to Marsha’s family. I am honored to have served with LCDR Hanly aboard the USNS Comfort last year and blessed to have known her. I can still remember her beautiful smile each and everyday during our mission aboard the ship. She will be forever in our hearts.God’s blessings, CDR Ingrid Byles, NC USN

  9. CAPT Anne Mitchell

    Thank you Chaplain Steve. Your post could not have been better articulated. Marsha was an amazing woman. I had the honor and privilege to have worked with her during the Continuing Promise mission last year. I was the Director of Nursing Services, and Marsha was my Department Head in the ICU. She exceeded all expecations as a leader and clinician. She touched so many lives onboard and abroad in the countries we visited. Her caring touch, compassion, and love of mankind was so apparent in all she did. I cannot even imagine the pain that her husband, children, parents and brothers and sisters must be experiencing. Our memories of Marsha will remain in our hearts and minds!!

  10. Trevor Carlson

    The Memorial Service at NMC Portsmouth is on Wednesday May 23rd @ 1200 in the Auditorium in Bldg 2 (formerly bldg 215).

  11. Suzanne Fierros

    Thank you so much for saying all the things I have felt and more for Marsha. I only knew her for the last couple of years, but in that short time have been amazed by her pose, professionalism and instinctive ability to understand everyone’s situation without passing judgment. When Marsha was to leave the command and I knew, or rather thought, I was not going to see her after my deployment I made it a point to thank her for all she did for me from the depths of my heart. I told her that I thought she was one of the best leaders I have ever known and if I ever have a chance to hold a position such as hers I could only hope to emulate her leadership skills, and compassion. I am so happy I said those words to her, for I truly ment every word!

  12. Ann Marie Raniowski, LCDR, NC, USN

    Again, words can never say enough when we lose someone who has given so much of herself not only to her family but to her patients. I only had the privilege of knowing Marsha a short time while working at BHC Sewells’ and how she never came to work in a negative mood. She will truly be missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to her husband and children during this time.

  13. Kendra Voss

    Padre Steve, thank you so much for your tribute to Marsha. I did not know her extremely well, but our paths crossed many times in high school and in college. Even as just a casual friend, she touched my heart. I’ve had a difficult time making sense of it this past week. My thoughts and prayers are with the great many she touched and especially her family. God Bless!
    Kendra Voss
    Morse Bluff, Nebraska

  14. Debra Van Dyke

    I too served with LCDR Hanly onboard USNS Comfort during CP 2011. I was reminded of this when I read the article “Tales from the Sea: Critical Care Nurses Serving Aboard the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy.” Critical Care Nurse Vol 33, No 4, August 2013, p. 61-67. One of my civilian nurses had given a copy of the article to me. I truly appreciated LCDR Hanly’s professionalism and dedication. It was a pleasure to have served with her onboard the USNS Comfort. May you rest in peace. LT Debra Van Dyke, NC, USNR.

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