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ASU criminology school mourns loss of professor Marie Griffin

Criminology professor Marie Griffin

Marie Griffin

August 23, 2016

ASU criminology and criminal justice professor Marie Griffin died Aug. 15 after fighting breast cancer. She was 49.  

For people who worked with her, Griffin will forever be remembered for her ability to make them laugh.

“She had a wicked sense of humor,” said Hank Fradella, a professor and associate director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University.

“She had a way of making her colleagues laugh, even at times where you would think ‘how can we find humor at this moment?’” Fradella said. “And she would do it in a way that sometimes, even through tears, would help people put a smile on their face.”

Fradella knew Griffin for more than twenty years. They entered graduate school together at ASU in 1994 and defended their doctoral dissertations days apart three years later. After graduation, they threw a joint party with their families. Fradella says there was a fun side to his friend that will be missed.

“In graduate school, she was always someone you could count on to go to happy hour, shoot pool, and play darts,” says Fradella. “There was a really really fun side to her.”

There was another side to Griffin that also stood out. Her warmth and caring for others.

“One of the things that I always valued about her is that when there was someone in need, she was always the first to say ‘how can I help?'” said Fradella. “She wasn’t asking because it was the right thing to say, she actually wanted to help and did. She would step up.”

To show how much Griffin cared about others, Fradella points to a recent text message exchange.

Hank Fradella (center) and Marie Griffin with the mothers

Hank Fradella (middle) and Marie Griffin with their mothers after earning their doctoral degrees in 1997.

“She was just a few days away from death and we were texting each other. And in spite of the fact that her own life was coming to an end, she was asking about my father’s life because he will shortly pass away from pancreatic cancer,” recalled Fradella. “She had the wherewithal to be concerned about him and me at a time where she just had days left. That’s the kind of person she was. Just a really remarkable soul.”

Remarkable would also describe her work as a scholar. Her research focused on correctional officers and correctional staff. She examined ways to improve the work environment for people with very difficult jobs.

“She was an accomplished scholar making a difference,” said Eric Lambert, a professor and chair in the Department of Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi. Lambert began collaborating with Griffin a decade ago.

“She was a great writer, a great thinker, and very creative,” Lambert said. “She came at problems in new ways. She made me a better thinker, better researcher. I’m still working on the better writer part.”

Griffin played a pivotal role in the development of undergraduate and graduate students. She taught an introduction to corrections course and a graduate seminar on corrections. She also mentored dozens of graduate students.

“One of her greatest joys was when her students were successful,” said Sam Vickovic, who earned his doctorate from the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2015. Vickovic came to ASU, in part, to study under the tutelage of Griffin and her husband, John Hepburn, who also specializes in corrections research.

Vickovic recalls being assigned a project for one of his first graduate classes that required access to a dataset. Not knowing any of his new professors, he turned to Griffin, whom Vickovic had recently met.

“She just sat me down in her office and said ‘I work on this kind of research, and I have this data which could be good for your class,” said Vickovic. “From that day on, every time I went into her office she challenged me, she helped me. I walked out knowing more, feeling more comfortable, and much more confident.”

John Hepburn, Sam Vickovic and Marie Griffin

Left to right: Criminology and criminal justice professor John Hepburn, doctoral graduate Sam Vickovic and criminology and criminal justice professor Marie Griffin after the May 2015 convocation ceremony at Wells Fargo Arena.

Vickovic says Griffin taught students how to be young professionals. That meant being responsible and respectful. She could also be stern.

“She had no problem putting you in your place,” said Vickovic.

“She was a demanding, but fair, teacher who held her students to high standards and gave willingly of her time to ensure that they were able to flourish academically,” says Cassia Spohn, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “Her mentorship shaped the careers of countless graduate students.”  

Spoon also credits Griffin for keeping her colleagues accountable as well. She was not afraid to say what needed to be said.

“She was a force to be reckoned with at faculty meetings, insisting that we follow the rules, to the letter, and emphasizing the importance of faculty governance,” noted Spohn.  

Still, it is Griffin's warmth, laughter, and caring that friends will miss most. Griffin is survived by her husband, John, and their 14-year old twins, Megan and Jack and two step-daughters, Erin and Kara.

“We will miss her vibrant presence, her ready smile, and her quick and caustic wit,” said Spohn. “We join her husband and our friend and colleague, John, and her beautiful children, Megan and Jack, in mourning her passing.”

To honor Griffin, the school created a donation page with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. An initial goal of raising $3,500 was achieved in one day. Doctoral student Kate Kempany is one of dozens of individuals who contributed. What she wrote sums up the sentiments of many.

"Marie, thank you for all the years of mentorship,” she wrote. “You were a great teacher — I'll never forget your lessons, I just wish there could be more."

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