Nursing legend Margaret Martin Roth dies at 102

Riley 100 |

01/30/2023

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“A great woman, nurse, teacher, mentor and innovator” is how a former Riley leader is being remembered.

She was a pioneer in pediatric nursing. A legend in the halls of Riley Hospital for Children.

The most coveted nursing award at Riley is named for Margaret Martin Roth, who passed away Jan. 22 at the age of 102.

“She was a wonderful leader,” retired nurse Kathryn McGregor recalled. “I was so fortunate to have her as a mentor.”

In her obituary published last week in The Indianapolis Star, Martin Roth was described as “a courageous, compassionate, dedicated and innovative nursing leader.”

Born in Franklin, Indiana, she graduated from the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in 1942 and worked in family practice for the next 10 years, taking time off in 1945 to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War II.

She earned advanced degrees in pediatric nursing and spent several years teaching at the university level before joining Riley in 1965, under the leadership of Dr. Morris Green.

There she made an indelible mark on children, parents and colleagues.

“A great woman, nurse, teacher, mentor and innovator,” said Susan Gunn, longtime neonatal nurse and researcher at Riley. “I always looked up to her and learned from her. I learned how to do your research and fight for what you think was right even if it was new and everybody said you were crazy.”

Deb Hutchison, another longtime NICU nurse, remembers being in awe of Martin Roth.

“She had an aura about her. I remember seeing her as a person on a mission. I was shaking in my own shoes … but she evoked confidence in where Riley was headed.”

Always motivated to improve the physical and psychological health of young patients and families, Martin Roth worked with Dr. Green and nurse Karen Radar to establish the first Parent Care Unit in the country in 1971. Rooms accommodated both patients and parents, ideal for children going home with special needs. Many newborn ICU grads came to Parent Care to gain weight, or for parents to learn tracheostomy care or other skills before being on their own at home.

“I always thought how difficult it must be to have a child in the hospital and not be able to stay with them,” Martin Roth said during an interview later in life.

In 1974, she was promoted to director of nursing services for Riley, where she would have an even greater impact on Riley’s philosophy of care and compassion, listening to those closest to the bedside and inspiring a collaborative environment.

McGregor remembers being a young nurse, fresh out of school, when Martin Roth hired her and soon promoted her to head nurse because at the time she was one of only two nurses on the burn unit who had a bachelor’s degree, rather than a two-year degree.

“She mentored us. She was wonderful about making sure we got to conferences, anything to help us grow as leaders,” said McGregor, who retired in 2019 as clinical manager after 44 years on the burn unit.

Her boss’ open-door policy was refreshing, she said, recalling how she and others could go to Martin Roth and tell them about something that had gone wrong that day.

“She was not punitive,” McGregor said. “She would simply tell us how we could do things differently the next day. She was a very strong nursing leader, a wonderful teacher, mentor and friend to a lot of people.”

While Martin Roth didn’t marry until she was in her 70s and never had her own kids, McGregor was impressed with how much she understood children.

“She was so invested in and passionate about how we took care of children and how we protected them.”

But she also enjoyed going out with some of the nursing team after work.

“She was so much fun. She always wanted to know the latest trends and what people were doing,” McGregor said. “She came to my baby shower for my son 37 years ago. We celebrated birthdays, weddings, everything.”

When Martin Roth retired from Riley in 1985, McGregor and others planned a grand party out in the courtyard and had her driven home in a Bentley.

“It was fitting for her. She was a dignified and classy lady.”

An annual Margaret Martin Roth Nursing Scholarship Award was established to honor nursing staff who skillfully demonstrate patient/family-centered care.

For her 99th birthday, McGregor and friends surprised Martin Roth with a card shower, overwhelming her with cards from Riley team members and patients alike.

McGregor and Radar last saw their friend and mentor during a visit last fall to Marquette Manor, where Martin Roth lived for several years.

No memorial service is planned, but a small gathering of friends will celebrate her life in the spring. Memorial contributions may be made to Riley Children’s Foundation.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org