Although she was the first person in her family to attend college, Sallee Purcell worked hard to achieve an education and support her son, Dan Purcell.

“She was well aware that she had risen from humble circumstances to be in a better and more secure position than her parents had been,” Dan Purcell said. “She really wanted to really continue that American dream for my generation and enable me to achieve things that she hadn’t.”

Purcell died Sept. 5, at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, where she worked for many years.

She took up a career in social work after she separated from her son’s father and needed a way to provide as a single parent. She worked in the Boone Hospital Center’s psychiatric unit from 1981 to 2007 while also maintaining a private practice.

“She loved doing therapy, whether it’s individuals, families, or couples, and really tried to make that the focus of her work,” Dan Purcell said.

He recalled many times when outpatient clients called in the middle of the night because Purcell was the person they’d look to when they stumbled “into a dark place.”

Purcell’s husband, John Murray, said she had an inquisitive mind.

“She was very smart, and she cared a lot about people,” Murray said. “She helped a lot of people in her life.”

One of those people she helped was her son. Despite working multiple demanding jobs, Purcell was a devoted mother who attended all of Dan Purcell’s sports games and high school plays. She also taught him to be frugal without sacrificing opportunities that were important to him. She always stressed the importance of education and cultural experiences.

“From a very young age, she browbeat me into seeing many great artists who came through Columbia,” Dan Purcell said. “She took me to jazz and blues concerts, both at the university and at the old Blue Note.”

Purcell and Murray would dine at Murry’s and stay for jazz on Saturday nights, an activity the couple enjoyed since the restaurant’s opening in 1985. She was also a member of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series’s board of directors for 25 years.

In addition to fostering a love for music, Purcell also took her son on trips to great museums when they visited family in Pennsylvania, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

At home, she was “an avid art collector, within her relatively modest means,” Dan Purcell said. She filled her own house with art that made her feel connected to the outside world. She and Murray both liked to collect ceramic art, particularly from regional and Native American artists.

She gave tours at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, and Dan Purcell said she was heartbroken when she was forced to stop because of trouble with her eyesight.

For Purcell, life was about art, travel and good food and drink, and she structured her retirement around that.

She met John Murray in 1964, at the University of Wisconsin, and they shared many years of friendship. After the two married in 2002, they enjoyed collecting art and wine, dining at great restaurants, and traveling the world together. In 2012, the couple traveled to South Africa, where they saw lions sunning themselves mere feet from the couple’s vehicle.

“When she was working, she had this vision of what things would be like when she retired, and I think she did a pretty good job of satisfying it,” Dan Purcell said.Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.

  • Education reporter, fall 2019 Studying print and digital editing Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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