In Memoriam: Melody Norris Waller

It is with great sadness that we share the untimely death on February 6th of our friend and colleague, Melody Norris Waller, PhD, RN, who was serving on the planning team for the 2022 Virtual Nursing Theory Week that starts on March 17th. Melody was an Assistant Professor and Director of the newly established Dr. Margaret A. Newman Center for Nursing Theory at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing. She brought her vibrant, dedicated spirit and passion to the planning of the conference, and to furthering the vision for nursing that Margaret Newman established as a guiding light for the development of nursing knowledge. I recently asked Melody about how she knew Dr. Newman, and her eyes lit up as she shared her experience of listening to Dr. Newman talk about her ideas, and how much she was inspired by Dr. Newman’s vision. Melody has left this earth far too early; her potential as a nursing leader and scholar was just emerging.  But her presence will live on in the hearts and minds of the many lives she touched. There will be an empty seat at the virtual conference table, but her memory, and the inspiration that she conveyed to everyone around her, will remain with us all.

Melody Norris Waller

Here are reflections from others who serve on the planning team:

Marlaine Smith (former dean, Florida Atlantic University): “I served on two committees with Melody: One was the Newman Center Advisory Board and the second was a subcommittee of this Board to plan the April 21-22 Newman Dialogue in Memphis.  She led both of those committees. While I didn’t know her well in the conventional sense, I believe we can sense another’s pattern. I experienced her as a gifted leader….she listened intently to others and incorporated their ideas into planning; she was curious and open to all possibilities; she was committed to the task at hand (wasn’t just going through the motions) and that was evident in her way of leading/being.  She was very organized, kept the group on point and communicated with all of us.

Dottie Jones (Director of the Marjory Gordon Program for Knowledge Development and Clinical Reasoning, Boston College Connell School of Nursing):  I first met Dr Melody Waller late last spring after she was appointed to lead the Endowed Newman Center at UT . My role was to work with Melody and begin actualizing the Center’s mission and goals, and inaugurate a Board of Advisors to guide the implementation of the Center and the advancement nursing theory, especially Newman’s theory of Health as Expanding Consciousness. Melody was deeply committed to this new role and as we met over the summer she worked tirelessly with University Leadership as well as  the Dean of the School of Nursing to accomplish many important outcomes including the convening of the inaugural meeting of the Advisory Board for the Center this past fall. .

During our meetings. Melody often talked about her deep commitment to nursing theory and her interest in studying issues of diversity and equity in underserved populations. She was excited about the potential of her new role in helping her bridge  both her academic and personal goals. She was excited to be working with HEC scholars who had been part of Margaret’s network to expand nursing theory on a global  level. Throughout the time I spent with Melody I found her to be knowledgeable, dedicated, committed, and selfless in her determination to provide the needed leadership so important to advancing nursing science and its potential impact on the health and well becoming for all. In the short time I worked with Melody, it was clear that she was recognizing her own potential as a scholar and a leader. It was wonderful to see this unfolding occur and anticipate new possibilities for nursing moving forward.

I will miss Melody’s physical presence among us. But I know her presence will be felt as the work of the Center moves forward.

Leslie Nicoll, (Editor of CIN Computers, Informatics, Nursing, and conference planner and manager for the Nursing Theory Conference)-  “My clearest and most personal memory is when we had our Zoom planning meeting for the VNTW in December. She had all her Christmas pillows and some decorations around her. I commented that she was so “ahead of the game” with decorating (I think the meeting was around Dec 9) and Melody said how much she loves Christmas, being with her family and friends, and decorating her home to entertain everyone.”

The following tribute was provided to us by Leigh Ann Roman at UTHSC:

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing has lost a bright light in nursing education with the untimely passing of Assistant Professor Melody Waller, PhD, RN, who was recently appointed as Director of the college’s Dr. Margaret A. Newman Center for Nursing Theory.

A native of Chattanooga, Dr. Waller joined the College of Nursing faculty in 2009 and earned her PhD in Nursing Science at UTHSC in 2016. She served as the RN to BSN program coordinator for several years and most recently led the college task force charged with seeking National League for Nursing (NLN) Center of Excellence status. The college was designated as an NLN Center of ExcellenceTM in the category of Enhancing Student Learning and Professional Development for a four-year term: 2021-2025.

“Melody was one of a kind and will be greatly missed,” said College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP. “I hired Melody as a research nurse when I first joined the college as a faculty member and saw her tremendous growth over her years with us. She was a tremendous faculty member, leader, and educator. But most importantly, Melody was an exceptional person with a beautiful spirit.”

Dr. Waller died Feb. 6. She was 43. An endowed scholarship in her name is being established in the College of Nursing to benefit a student pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). The link to contribute to that fund is

“Melody coached and mentored many students while they were enrolled in the CON in her unique lighthearted way,” said Assistant Professor Trina Barrett, DNP, RN, CNE, CCRN. “Her commitment to students did not end at graduation. She continually helped former students to grow in her beloved specialty area of women’s health. Personally, I consider Melody’s most significant impact on the nursing college is how she embodied inclusivity and camaraderie among students, faculty, and staff. Melody will be greatly missed by all.” 

Dr. Waller’s honors include receiving the Student Government Association Executive Council Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011 and 2013 and the Johnson & Johnson/American Association of Colleges of Nursing Minority Nurse Faculty Scholarship Award in 2013 and 2014.

Assistant Professor Crystal Walker, PhD, DNP, FNP-C, who met Dr. Waller as a student, recalls meeting with her after doing poorly on a test in her class. “I remember crying during that meeting because I was so disappointed in myself, but I also remember smiling and laughing a lot because Melody found a way to squeeze in a few jokes to keep my spirits up.”

“Throughout my nursing program, she coached me, advocated for me, and mentored me to finish strong,” Dr. Walker said. “I graduated No. 1 in my nursing school class, and I owe it all to the belief that Melody had in me. I knew she was rooting for me, and I wanted to make her proud.”

When Dr. Walker joined the College of Nursing faculty in 2016, “she showed me the ropes of nursing academia, and she inspired me along the way to be more like her,” she said. “When she dedicated herself to something, she was all in. I hope to be just half the person Melody was.”

In addition to her role within the college, Dr. Waller held several positions in community and professional organizations. These included service as a national board member for One-By-One Ministries, which trains volunteers from local churches to mentor expectant parents or parents with new babies. She was also vice president of the Beta Theta At Large chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society and was co-chair of the Minority Health Research Interest Group of the Southern Nursing Research Society. Dr. Waller’s research efforts were directed toward women’s health and improving the sexual and reproductive health status of African American women.

Nursing Instructor Alise Farrell, MSN, RN, taught a course with Dr. Waller. “I worked with her, taught with her, was taught by her, laughed, prayed, and cried with her,” Farrell said. “Her passion for others and for nursing will go on through so many that she touched.”

Professor Mona Newsome Wicks, PhD, RN, FAAN, was Dr. Waller’s department chair and her mentor in her PhD program.

“Dr. Melody Waller positively influenced the lives of so many people who walked with her during her professional journey. She encouraged, gently pushed, and challenged students and colleagues to be their very best and explore possibilities,” Dr. Wicks said.

“It was a gift to see her thrive in her new role this past year, developing and promoting our Margaret Newman Center of Excellence. The position was a perfect match for her talents because Melody could build relationships and get things done – work critical to creating new initiatives. In addition, she was willing to take strategic risks for the good of others – students, colleagues, the college, and the Margaret Newman Center of Excellence. Dr. Melody Waller will be sorely missed and forever remembered by those who knew and loved her radiant spirit and encompassing smile.”

Author: Peggy L Chinn

feminist, nurse activist, writer, founding editor of ANS Advances in Nursing Science, quilter, grandmother nurturing the future of the amazing children in my life.

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