by Cathy Barrett
Polly Murray, A Seeker of Truth
The legendary Mary Luckett ‘Polly’ Murray, one of the world’s first Lyme activist, sadly passed away on July 16th. Now all around the world Polly is being remembered as one of the most important pioneers of the Lyme movement. A movement that continues to fight for better understanding and more awareness for the disease and its sufferers.
In America in the 1970s, before Lyme disease was known to exist, Polly campaigned tirelessly to medical establishments to make them take notice and take action, to help the people in her local neighbourhood who were being struck down by a mysterious illness. It was Polly’s unrelenting determination and passion that finally led to the first research into the illness, to an official public health enquiry, and to the eventual discovery of Lyme disease and its vector-borne bacterial origin.
Polly’s husband, her four children and Polly herself were affected by the unknown illness and when searching for help were treated poorly by the mainstream medical system. They experienced real and chronic symptoms but were met by doctors with carelessness, apathy and disbelief.
It was Polly’s frustration at the treatment of her loved ones that drove her passion to search for the truth. When doctors diagnosed her children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and Polly herself was told her symptoms were psychological, she refused to believe that her medical system had all the answers.
With fierce determination and an analytical mind, she began investigating the illness.
She recorded detailed accounts of the symptoms of her family, and other families in the area where they lived in Lyme, Connecticut. She was so sure of her observations she contacted Yale University searching for a higher explanation and academic support. Her work was corroborated by observations from other community members, and Dr. Allen Steere, an open-minded scientist a Yale University, took an interest. As more research was conducted it became clear that a very real and serious new disease was emerging that was being spread by ticks in the local area.
It was Polly’s perseverance and the support of her community that led to the recognition of Lyme Arthritis in 1976 and to further research into the disease in the years that followed. With a free-thinking mind and a courageous spirit, she ignored the scepticism of local doctors and followed her truth. She was a remarkable woman who changed lives and reduced suffering through the work she did.
In Australia, Polly’s 1970’s story hits close to home. Currently a very real and very serious ‘mystery’ illness from a tick-borne origin is being ignored by the mainstream medical community. It is a time in Australia when anyone following the battle for Lyme disease recognition will feel acutely aware of the impact Polly’s actions would have had in America at the time. For in Australia we are hoping that soon the day will come when we experience a story of similar parallel. When the truth about our own ‘mystery’ tick-borne illness will come out, change will start filtering in, and people will start suffering less.
Polly’s early Lyme activism was just the beginning of her impact in the Lyme world, and she devoted the rest of her life to Lyme advocacy. In 1996 she wrote a book, ‘The Widening Circle: A Lyme Pioneer Tells Her Story’, which details her journey challenging the dogma of the medical community. She was also, more than deservedly, awarded an Honorary degree for her work on Lyme disease.
Accounts of Polly paint a picture of a women of strong ethical values and a great belief in the importance in caring for others. She has left a strong legacy of standing by what you believe in and questioning authority when it runs off course.
Polly experienced great challenges in her life but never let them hold her back. She was an artist who loved to paint and continued to enjoy walking in the woods near her home late into her life. She suffered from Alzheimer’s in the last 15 years of her life but still found ways to enjoy the things she loved. Vale Polly Murray. You are a true inspiration and will forever be remembered with love and gratitude by the Lyme community.
Read Polly’s full obituary here.