Dr. Martha Lillian White

Martha Lillian White, PhD, (“Mart” to family and friends), died in Pawleys Island, SC, on June 28, 2023, at the age of 74.  She died at home in the comforting presence of her spouse Eileen “Beans” Kelly.

Martha was born on a cold day, January 7, 1949, in Atlanta GA, the second of five children of devoted parents Dr. John Anthony (Tony) and Lillian A. White.  She grew up in Easley, SC, and thrived in the small-town community where she was active in church and school leadership roles. She attended Easley High School where she developed what became a life-long passion for participating in and following sports of all types.  She wrote the “On the Ball with Mart” column for the school paper and played basketball with great zeal.

Martha earned a BA from Columbia College in 1971 where she continued as a student body leader and loved playing intramural sports. Her first professional work was as a special education teacher in Orlando, FL where she lived with college friends. And oh, how she loved her Columbia College friends, including a special few who vacation together annually at Edisto Beach to celebrate their long friendships.  Early family trips instilled a love of traveling which she combined with work as a Department of Defense contract teacher in Okinawa and Schweinfurt, Germany. She continues regular contact with many of her friends from that time.

Seeking a new professional path, Martha earned an MA and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia (UGA). During her years in Athens, she thrived in her work with students and colleagues in the University Counseling Center. While at UGA, mild-mannered Martha became an avid and sometimes boisterous fan of the “Bulldogs”. Her fair-mindedness allowed her to remain a fan of Clemson and University of South Carolina (as long as they weren’t playing the Bulldogs!). In recent years, Mart became a loud and ‘wowed’ fan of the USC Lady Gamecock Basketball team.  Mart’s introduction to golf was a painful one when a sibling’s overzealous putter swing ended the game with her father stitching up Martha’s cut. However, her deep love of golf was kindled with the UGA Women’s Golf team, coached by Beans Kelly.  Many of those UGA golfers have maintained close connections with the couple and were devastated to hear of Martha’s unexpected death. One of those former golfers commented that she had never met a person like Mart who, when she walked in a room, everyone there felt such a sense of comfort just from her gentle presence and warm, reassuring smile.

Mart’s spirit was as big as that wonderful smile and as bright as her shining blue eyes. She will be deeply missed by family, friends, colleagues, and clients. From her early years in Easley, educational settings, professional career, church life, and social interactions, it seemed as if Mart knew thousands of people who considered her their dear friend and confidant. This is not surprising considering Martha’s compassion, wisdom, and acceptance of others. Her decades of experience as a counseling psychologist earned her a reputation as an excellent therapist, and as a kind and patient listener for her siblings and friends who found her calm demeanor always comforting and helpful. 

Without self-interest Martha was committed to serving others. Her siblings have always believed, and others agree that Martha seemed to be born with a pure spirit that without ego, pervaded her life and relationships.  She had a rich spiritual life that began at First United Methodist Church in Easley. In 1962, the Tony & Lillian White family was named “Methodist Family of the Year” that was documented in a photographic essay in Together, the national church magazine.

Martha later found a welcoming spiritual community in the Athens Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where she became an active lay leader. She and Beans more recently found community in the Unitarian Church in Charleston, SC, and were willing to regularly make the commute for Sunday services.

Martha & Beans became friends at UGA, and their love and devotion grew stronger every year of their four decades together. They were married in Towson, MD in 2013. They lived each day with joy and deep gratitude for their many blessings, especially their loving family and friends. Although physical limitations accompanied Martha’s stroke and breast cancer in recent years, the two were committed to living life to the fullest, made possible with Beans’ love and extraordinary caregiving, coupled with Martha’s determination and passion for life. They inspired all who crossed their path. Their mantras showed their profound acceptance of life’s challenges with “It is what it Is” balanced with their optimism and grit with “Catch the joy as it flies”. 

After leaving Athens, Martha and Beans moved to the Pawley’s Island area where they had vacationed for many years. They named their North Litchfield condo “The Golfin’ Dolphin” and have remained at Litchfield Retreat since 2005. They adored the ever-changing ocean, skies, and wildlife, often organizing bonfires on the beach, impromptu happy hours and cookouts for their dear neighbors and friends.

Martha loved the water and had a spiritual connection to all the ways that a person interacts with water whether sitting in the shallows of the breakers, paddling with her beloved dragon boat teammates, working out in the therapy pool, or reveling in the simple pleasure of a shower. Beans coached the Dragon Boat at the Beach paddling team of cancer survivors and Mart joined the fierce competition in many Dragon Boat festivals. The collective team spirit as well as the shared hardships deepened the friendships and the close circle of support for Mart and Beans.

Beans and Martha have always been very close with their families and throughout their 41 years together, have consistently given their time, love, and devotion to both families. Especially with their nieces and nephews, they have served as role models for the importance of maintaining strong values and family ties.

Martha was preceded in death by her parents and is survived by her wife Beans Kelly, sisters Ann White and Toni White (Joe Alley) of Lexington, SC; and brothers David White (Kerry MacKenzie) of Pickens, SC and David’s sons Isaac and Adrian; and John White (Bonnie Wyckoff) of Forest Grove, Oregon and their children John-Brian and Liza; Martha loved Beans’ four Kelly brothers and their families: Doug (Betty Ann), and their children MacKenzie, Kayla and John; Tom (Lauren), and their children Macie and Asher; Brendan (Tracy), and their children Mac, Maggie, and Bridget; and Brian (Holly), and their children Will and Grace.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, September 9 at 11:00 am at the Unitarian Church of Charleston

In lieu of flowers, donations in Martha’s memory can be directed to Columbia College and/or the Unitarian Church in Charleston (4 Archdale St, Charleston, SC 29401).

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