Dr. Karyn Purvis
Dr. Karyn Purvis
Internationally renowned child development expert Dr. Karyn Sue Brand Purvis ’97 (MS ’01 PhD ’03) devoted her life and academic pursuits to helping “children from hard places,” a phrase she coined to describe youngsters affected by trauma, abuse and neglect.
“There’s not a child she cannot heal,” psychology professor Dr. David Cross, her longtime mentor and research partner, told TCU Magazine in 2012.
Together, Purvis and Cross founded The TCU Institute of Child Development in 2005 and, through her charisma and kind-heartedness, grew it into one of the world’s leading training centers for caregivers and families grappling with social, behavioral and emotional struggles related to developmental impairments.
Purvis died April 12 after an extended illness. She was 66.
“I don’t think this it’s hyperbole to state that, save possibly for Gary Patterson, no recent TCU employee has brought more national and international recognition to TCU than has Karyn. She was passionate about all she did. Her passion was fueled by a keen mind and a huge heart. The world is truly better for her presence.”
Dr. Phil Hartman, dean, TCU College of Science & Engineering
A best-selling author, respected scholar and popular speaker, Purvis earned a doctorate in developmental psychology from TCU. As part of her graduate work, she and Cross created a research-based philosophy for healing troubled children called Trust-Based Relational Intervention, which centered on earning trust and building deep emotional connections.
As the institute grew, Purvis assumed the title of Rees-Jones Director and co-authored The Connected Child: Bringing Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family to help adoptive parents understand the needs of children from hard places. Within six months, the tome ranked as an Amazon bestseller among adoption books.
In 1998, Purvis and Cross serendipitously met with the Texas Parents Network for Post-Institutionalized Children in Fort Worth to put on a trial three-week day camp called Camp Hope. Daily activities focused on sensory stimulation and attachment behaviors. The experiment was a success as parents asked for more help.
The effort led to a formal research and intervention project called Hope Connection, a summer camp that served as a research and training lab for adopted children and their parents. It used therapeutic horseback riding, swimming, planting seeds, petting animals, painting and role playing.
Many adoptive parents, who marveled at her innate ability to playfully connect and see the real heart of a child, revered her as a “child whisperer.” To the thousands of children whose lives she touched, she was warmly known as “Miss Karyn, the queen of bubble gum!’’
“I thought we’d have a good time, learn from the children, find ways to chip away at some of the losses,” Purvis told the magazine in 2006. “I had no idea the chrysalis would open, and we’d find what we now call ‘the real child’ hidden under all these maladaptive strategies that kids have when they don’t feel safe.”
A foster parent herself and mother to three grown sons, Purvis was a pastor’s wife who went back to finish college when her youngest was an undergrad.
“She sat on the front row and was very eager, asking all kinds of questions,” Cross remembered. “She was fascinated by psychology.”
Purvis emerged a respected researcher, demonstrating how a child’s behavior, neurochemistry and life trajectory can change given the right environment. Among parents, she was an authoritative speaker and writer and trainer.
She also earned praise from her colleagues in TCU’s College of Science & Engineering.
“I don’t think this it’s hyperbole to state that, save possibly for Gary Patterson, no recent TCU employee has brought more national and international recognition to TCU than has Karyn,” said Dr. Phil Hartman, the college’s dean. “She was passionate about all she did. Her passion was fueled by a keen mind and a huge heart. The world is truly better for her presence.”
Purvis’s passionate pursuit of her mission inspired thousands, Provost Nowell Donovan said.
“In her love and care for children, Karyn struck right to the heart of humanity. She reminded and will always remind us, that we are all everywhere part of the same great family in which our shared obligation and joy is for each to care for the other,” he said.
“In her love and care for children, Karyn struck right to the heart of humanity. She reminded and will always remind us, that we are all everywhere part of the same great family in which our shared obligation and joy is for each to care for the other.”
Nowell Donovan, provost
Purvis’s life mission was a calling that came early in her life.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 31, 1949, Karyn was the second of four children of Othal and Kay Brand. Her parents met and married in Quantico, Va., after serving time in the Marines during WWII. In 1954 the family moved to McAllen, Texas where her father became one of the world’s largest onion growers and a longtime mayor of McAllen.
A self-described “daddy’s girl,” Karyn recalled accompanying her father into the slums of McAllen, where he distributed food and worked to improve living conditions for migrant workers. She watched her mother offer aide to the sick and elderly in her neighborhood and church. As a child, she took in stray and wounded animals. As a teenager, she mentored at-risk children at school and trained horses.
By age 20, she married Burton Purvis, a graduating senior she met at Howard Payne University, a small southern Baptist college in Brownwood, Texas. She quit school after her sophomore year to move with her husband, a new minister, to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the couple started a ministry for street kids. She spent the next 30 years of her life raising her own sons and ministering alongside her husband as the embodiment of the ideal pastor’s wife, trusted and loved. Besides rescuing stray and injured animals, she loved to create beautiful crafts and calligraphy of Scripture.
Years later, her message and teachings at the Institute increased exponentially across the U.S. and more than 25 other countries. Her insight led to interviews and news coverage in Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, KERA Radio, Dateline NBC, Focus on the Family, Parents, Fort Worth Weekly and countless other media outlets, blogs and webinars.
In 2008, then-Governor Rick Perry appointed her to chair a statewide committee tasked with raising standards for children in foster care. The National Council on Adoption honored Dr. Purvis with the title of Distinguished Fellow in Adoption and Child Development. She has received the James Hammerstein Award, the T. Berry Brazelton award for Infant Mental Health Advocacy, a Health Care Hero award from the Dallas Business Journal and numerous other awards and honors for her work on behalf of children.
Survivors include three sons: Dwayne Purvis, and wife, Katie, and their children, Bethany, Natalie, Matthew and David, of Fort Worth; Lou Purvis, wife, Jill, and their children Jackson and Ella of Flower Mound; and Jeremy Purvis and his wife, Jessica, and their sons William, Grant and Benjamin of Highland Village; older sister, Marjorie Lynn Ferrell, of Tyler; younger brother, Othal Brand Jr., of McAllen, and younger sister, Cynthia Brand, of Plano.
There will be a private funeral service for immediate family only. A public memorial is scheduled for Saturday, April 23 at 10 am at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
In lieu of flowers, please consider becoming a CASA volunteer or make a gift in memory of Dr. Karyn Purvis to the TCU Institute of Child Development. Please mail to Texas Christian University TCU Box 297044, Fort Worth, 76129.