A week before she was murdered in 1990, Dorothy "Dolly" Hearn walked into her grandmother's house in Washington, Ga., and declared, "I'm a senior in dental school. This time next year, you can call me Dr. Dolly."
In a couple of months, her prediction finally will come true.
The Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry will confer a posthumous degree to Ms. Hearn this spring in a special ceremony, Dean Connie Drisko said Thursday. Her classmates pushed for it in 1991 but were told there was no mechanism to do it, said Felix Maher, now a dentist in Savannah. They included her in the class composite picture, and her parents were given her hood from the hooding ceremony at graduation.
Dr. Carlton and Barbara Hearn also attended the class's 15-year reunion and established a scholarship in Ms. Hearn's name.
Her friends and family never believed her death was a suicide, but her ex-boyfriend and classmate Barton Corbin staged her murder to appear that way. Her death remained classified as a suicide until his wife died in a similar manner in 2004. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office reopened the investigation, and Dr. Corbin pleaded guilty to both murders in September.
After that, her classmates renewed their efforts to get her the degree, and the dental school faculty joined them late last year.
"This degree really helps confirm the fact that she did have the utmost respect of her mentors and her peers, and I think it speaks highly of her character and the wonderful memories people have of her," Dr. Drisko said.
The scholarship in Ms. Hearn's name goes every year to the senior student who classmates feel most exemplifies her spirit of perseverance, empathy and professionalism, Dr. Frederick Rueggeberg said.
And in some ways, she is already the embodiment of what the degree will confer, her mother said.
"We have called her Dr. Dolly," Mrs. Hearn said, "but now she will be. We're very happy."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dorothy "Dolly" Hearn's family has established a scholarship in her name for a senior dental student at the Medical College of Georgia.
Donations may be sent to: Dr. Fred Rueggeberg, MCG School of Dentistry, 1120 15th St. , Augusta, GA 30912.