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New scholarship to assist students pursuing work with survivors of trauma and sexual violence

Amy Louise Brannock, MSW ’07, never allowed one facet of her life to completely define her. Rather, she was a loving wife and daughter. An accomplished musician and a dedicated teacher. A vital leader for the arts community and a clinical social worker.
She was also a source of courage and inspiration, especially to survivors of sexual assault. A survivor herself, Brannock fully embraced the complicated and often challenging details woven into the fabric of her life. Even a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2001 could not claim her spirit, strength and hope, said husband Roger Cook. The news simply intensified her resolve to help others. Her commitment to advocacy and healing remained until August 2011, when Brannock—after 10 years of battling cancer—died at age 55.

Over the last two years, her family has struggled with how best to continue the work that Brannock started. However, with the establishment of the Amy Louise Brannock, MSW Memorial Scholarship Fund, Cook and Louise W. Brannock, Amy’s mother, hope to further Brannock’s cause. The family and others have pledged $25,000 to the UNC School of Social Work to set up the new scholarship, which will benefit qualifying students who are interested in pursuing work with individuals who have experienced trauma and/or sexual violence.

“It’s my hope that this scholarship supports the professional development of students who have a particular interest in healing,” Cook said. “I view it as an investment in the long-term development of someone to have the capacities to make the world a better place and to heal psychologically wounded people.”

The scholarship also helps to publicly recognize Brannock’s work within the community, said Mary Beth Hernandez, the School of Social Work’s associate dean for advancement. “Amy was an amazing person—compassionate, strong and multi-talented—and this scholarship is a wonderful tribute to her life of service.”

That professional commitment included Brannock’s work at the Durham Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center, where she provided psychotherapy to American service men and women who had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. As a clinical social worker, she also assisted organ transplant patients and survivors of sexual violence. Prior to her death, she was working as a therapeutic investigator for a national research study comparing therapy modalities for military trauma survivors.

“Her work changed lives,” Cook said.

Brannock equally inspired others during her career in music and the arts. An accomplished choral singer and pianist, she graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1978 with a B.A. in music education. She then spent five years teaching music and directing choruses in the Pender and Chatham County school systems.

Brannock returned to school in Pittsburgh, Pa., and in 1985, she graduated with a master’s degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University. Shortly thereafter, she was named the director of The Arts Council of Wilmington in North Carolina. Brannock’s successful efforts in revitalizing Wilmington’s cultural community eventually brought her to Raleigh, where she earned national recognition as the director of community arts development for the North Carolina Arts Council.

During that time, Brannock married Cook, an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the couple settled in Durham.

Brannock’s life took an unexpected turn in 2000 after she was sexually assaulted. According to Cook, the personal tragedy gave his wife the will to volunteer with what is now the Durham Crisis Response Center and inspired her to return to school once again. This time, Brannock wanted to pursue a master’s in social work, and she enrolled at UNC. That she would earn her degree while also battling Stage IV ovarian cancer was a testament to Brannock’s courage, her mother said.

“I think Amy just felt like God had a different purpose for her in her life and that was to help others,” said her mother, who lives in Hickory, NC.

Following graduation, Brannock went on to receive her professional license and then served in various positions at Duke University Medical Center and at the Durham VA Medical Center. Her last 18 months were spent as a therapist and researcher at the Institute of Medical Research based at the Durham VA.

Brannock’s healing work as a social worker helped her to “feel a sense of purpose and joy and enthusiasm and gratitude in being alive,” Cook said.

“Her life stands for the principle that each moment is sacred, that each of us bears a duty to help in this world, and that even among tragedy, there is joy to be found in living each and every day,” he said. “She viewed her life as just an opportunity to connect with people to make the world a more beautiful place.”

Brannock also would have been proud that a scholarship in her name will offer social work students the opportunity to complete their educations and to continue the vital work that she cared so much about, Cook added.

“(Social work) is as noble a cause as there is in my opinion,” he said. “It’s blessed work and anyone who does it is reaching for the highest that people can give. Amy would have been very proud of anyone whom she could have helped to do this work. This scholarship is a continuation of her helping others to realize their potential and to spread healing.”

For more information about the Amy Louise Brannock, MSW Memorial Scholarship Fund or other fundraising priorities and the impact of private giving at the School of Social Work, please contact: Mary Beth Hernandez Associate Dean for Advancement,