In the end, not even death and a 16-year delay were enough to keep Dolly Hearn from getting the degree she earned from the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry. Her professors, her family and her "other family," her classmates from 1991, saw to that.
Dorothy Carlisle "Dolly" Hearn was awarded her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree Friday by MCG President Daniel W. Rahn in a ceremony that included more than a dozen family members and about 20 classmates. It was the first posthumous degree MCG has given.
Ms. Hearn was slain in 1990, just before starting her senior year, by an ex-boyfriend who tried to conceal it as a suicide, something her family and classmates never accepted. The case was reopened a few years ago when there was a similar suspicious suicide, and Barton Corbin pleaded guilty to both murders in September.
Her classmates had pushed for her to get the degree in 1991, but there was no mechanism to do it back then, said Savannah dentist Felix Maher. A resolution in the case spurred a renewed effort among the 1991 class and her professors to bring a resolution to her degree.
"In light of recent events, the time was right," Dr. Maher said. In school they had always helped each other out, and now "we're going to help Dolly graduate," he said.
Her parents created a scholarship in her name and attended class reunions, but receiving her degree wasn't something they could envision.
"We didn't think we'd live to see this," said her mother, Barbara Hearn.
And yet glimpses of Dolly Hearn were everywhere during the ceremony.
A large portrait of her dominated the front of the ballroom, on loan from classmate Dr. Erick Pagan, who will take over the practice of her father, Dr. Carlton Hearn, when he retires in June. The portrait will always hang in the office in Washington, Ga.
Other family members wore her picture on buttons, and a 4-month-old niece, Carlisle Jane Hearn, wore a yellow dress Dolly once wore.
"She is here," said classmate Dr. Dean Younce , an oral surgeon in Boise, Idaho. "She influenced everyone here."
The degree just officially adds a title friends and family already had given her.
Now MCG has a graduate who will continue to teach ethics to her profession and the importance of ethics," Mrs. Hearn said. "The School of Dentistry also has a notable emissary who will always be young and beautiful in the eyes of the Lord. Here's to you, Dr. Dolly."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DOLLY HEARN SCHOLARSHIP
The family of Dorothy "Dolly" Hearn established a scholarship in her name that is awarded annually to a student in the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry.
Donations may be sent to: Dr. Fred Rueggeberg, MCG School of Dentistry, 1120 15th St., Augusta, GA 30912.
Friends and classmates also are donating in her name to a fund for a new building for the dental school and so far have pledged about $66,000.