Marla Lenihan, longtime diocesan victims’ assistance coordinator, dies

Marla Lenihan, who died on March 6, wrote her obituary below:

I am fortunate to have had time to share some of my own thoughts in this obituary as opposed to others writing their thoughts about my life.

I was born April 5, 1951, in Kankakee, Ill., the second of three children. I lived in Illinois until high school and spent most of my adolescent years in the South, particularly in Tennessee.

I met my husband, Dr. Bill Lenihan, while in graduate school at the University of Tennessee. Our adventures began as he was off to dental school and I was launching my career as a mental health therapist. We married in Oak Ridge on March 30, 1974.

Bill finished dental school and joined the Air Force, which enabled him to pursue an advanced degree in prosthodontics. As we moved around with our two children, Brennan and Meighan, I always managed to find positions in teaching psychology at the college level or working for social service agencies as a therapist.

I truly enjoyed both, but always wanted to establish my own private practice. When we settled in Oak Ridge after getting out of the Air Force, I was working as a supervisor and therapist at Catholic Charities (an agency in which I worked in several locations while being stationed in various states while Bill was in the Air Force).

I eventually transitioned from agency work to establishing my private practice in Oak Ridge in 1995. I maintained close ties with Catholic Charities in doing various presentations and volunteer work in the Diocese of Knoxville.

I was appointed the victim’s assistance coordinator for the diocese over 20 years ago, and have held that volunteer position ever since. It has been my privilege to have worked so closely with the Church all these years and to have had the opportunity to get to know many of the priests and deacons personally.

Bill and I maintain affiliations with St. Mary (Parish) in Oak Ridge, St. Albert (Parish) in Knoxville, and St. John Neumann School in Farragut.

In addition to teaching, private practice, and my work with the Church, I have also participated in volunteer activities as well as several board positions. I served on the University of Tennessee Advisory Board for Counselor Education as well as supervising students working toward licensure.

I was on the Contact Care board and was an elected member of the board of directors of the Tennessee Member’s First Federal Credit Union.

I held director positions (local and regional) for all the social service agencies with whom I was affiliated. My teaching positions included appointments in Florida, Texas, Delaware, and Tennessee.

I also maintained active memberships in the American Mental Health Counseling Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, the American Counseling Association, and the Tennessee Licensed Professional Counseling Association. I was a member of Altrusa International for 29 years and a graduate of Leadership Oak Ridge.

Something very important to me was my relationship with my clients. I truly loved my work, and was honored to be allowed into the lives of so many incredible and courageous people. I’ve told people for years that I hope I would be remembered as someone who truly tried to make a difference—personally and professionally.

Please share any stories on how our lives may have intersected over the years. If I have connected with you in any particular way that you care to share, please e-mail any thoughts, stories or observations to I’m sure the immediate family I am leaving behind would love to hear from you and find your words comforting, and I would appreciate it.

I leave behind my husband, Dr. Bill Lenihan, my son Brennan Lenihan, daughter-in-law Michelle Jones, daughter Meighan Lenihan Vargas, and my two very special granddaughters, Eile Lenihan and Valentina Vargas.

I am truly blessed to have had 70 wonderful and healthy years. I have lived a good life, and a wonderful 70 years filled with health, love, purpose, and joy.

I have always told people over the years that when I die I’m hoping I’m remembered for “She tried to make a difference when she was here” (I just didn’t think it would be this soon!!).

In lieu of flowers, any donations to St. Mary in Oak Ridge, St. Albert the Great in Knoxville, St. John Neumann School in Farragut, or the American Cancer Society would be appreciated.

Receiving of friends was at St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge on March 11, followed by a funeral Mass.

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