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Staffer Mary Beckley, a Kidney Transplant Recipient, Finds Harmony in History

As an administration specialist II for the Department of History, Mary Beckley wears many hats: scheduler, purchaser, publicist, inventory clerk, and all-around problem-solver. 

“There’s always moving parts,” she said. “It means I can’t stop learning myself.” 

A “military brat,” Beckley was born in South Carolina and lived in Japan for 3.5 years as a young child. The family then moved to Austin, Texas, where Beckley lived until she graduated from high school. She then moved to East Tennessee to attend Maryville College, her grandparents’ alma mater.

Beckley earned a bachelor’s degree in music education and, over the years, she’s taught private music lessons and volunteered with the Joy of Music School.

“Music is one of my lifelong loves,” said Beckley who has played piano since age 5. “Originally the plan was to become a music teacher.”

But during college she struggled with illness—the result of a genetic kidney disease—and soon after graduating, started on dialysis. Six months later she had a kidney transplant. Her donor was her sister Sarah, a lecturer at Clemson.

Once she recovered enough to work, Beckley needed to find a job with good insurance. She joined UT’s temp pool in 2007 and started working as a graduate school coordinator in the School of Architecture. The next year, she was offered the full-time job in history.

“I’m extremely, extremely lucky to be where I am,” she said. “I’ve had nothing but support from everyone I work with.”

Fifteen years after her transplant, Beckley is doing well. She married her husband, Rick, in 2010.

“I’m in good health. I watch my diet and I exercise. I do have to watch for getting tired and staying clear of the latest bug going around. And I have to be careful not to sit too long because that will mess up my circulation,” she said. 

Landing in the history department has been a nice fit for Beckley in other ways, too.

“I, personally, am a lover of history,” she said, adding that her mother was a librarian and taught high school history.  “I grew up surrounded by history books. She collected them like crazy. I never thought of history as boring. It was one of those things I always wanted to know more about.”

During her time at UT, Beckley has seen a major shift from keeping paper files to doing most administrative work online. Greater use of technology means questions about computers and software. Beckley said she’s tried to school herself in all of that to troubleshoot many issues without calling for help.

“I do like detail and solving problems,” she said. But, she admits, that can be “like death by a thousand papercuts. There’s always detail upon detail to think about.”

In her spare time, Beckley enjoys reading, writing, and listening to live music.

“I’m a faithful Big Ears Festival ticketholder,” she said. Some favorite concerts she’s experienced—other than Paul McCartney—have included singer/songwriter/pianist Tori Amos, blues/rock/soul/hip-hop artist Gary Clark Jr., and “punk rock laureate” Patti Smith.

-Story by Amy Blakely