SON Community Mourns Loss of Elizabeth Tornquist, Revered Editor, Mentor, Friend

Hearts are heavy in the UNC School of Nursing community as we mourn the loss over the weekend of Elizabeth Tornquist, a profoundly respected editor, colleague and mentor, and a beloved friend to many who have studied and worked in Carrington Hall.

Elizabeth passed away unexpectedly on Saturday.

For thirty years, Elizabeth M. Tornquist, MA, FAAN, was Editor in Residence for the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Though not a nurse herself, she quickly developed a reputation as an editor of remarkable insight, intelligence and compassion, gaining her the trust of novice and veteran grant-writers alike.

“Elizabeth would turn a dry and methodologically heavy proposal into an enticing story that would ease the reader through it like silk,” said Professor Linda Beeber. “Her knowledge of science was unusual for an editor; she could detect faulty reasoning, but also faulty scientific decision-making. I hold her up as a champion for nursing research who willingly gave every proposal her closest read and best thinking.”

These peculiar talents eventually led both the Schools of Public Health and Medicine at UNC to bring Elizabeth on faculty, and she continued as a visiting faculty member at many other schools of nursing across the U.S. up until her passing. Today, she is known worldwide for her skill as an editor and mentor who has helped scientists from many disciplines write fundable grant proposals and publishable articles and books.

Elizabeth was a brilliant and broadly educated woman who earned a bachelor of arts in English, magna cum laude, from Duke University (Phi Beta Kappa) as an A.B. Duke Scholar, studied French through a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Aix‑Marseilles in Aix‑en‑Provence, France and earned her master’s in English with Honors from the University of Chicago. She was the Editor in Residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing from 1974 until her retirement in 2004. She also served on faculty in the Leadership Program in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health from 1987 to 2001 and in the School of Medicine from 1997 to 2001.

At home, Elizabeth was a loving single mother to her daughter, Amy Tornquist, and a devoted grandmother to her granddaughters, Lizzie and Katie.

Her history is notable for her spirit and sense of the value of all human beings. While raised in the small Southern town of Williamston, North Carolina, she became a strong, independent thinker, developing an ethos of justice and social equality as sturdy as her love for family and friends. These values guided her life and conduct for the benefit of many.

She taught scientific writing for more than 40 years, conducting countless workshops for faculty, health care clinicians, and scientists in industry on writing grant proposals, research and technical reports, and articles for publication. In addition, she authored or edited a dozen books (receiving six American Journal of Nursing Books of the Year Awards), and dozens of articles. She received many awards and honors including Honorary Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, honorary membership in Sigma Theta Tau International, the “Pioneering Spirit Award” from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and an honorary membership in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing Alumni Association.

Elizabeth has been described as “a pistol, a truth and story teller, a grammarian, and someone who did not fall in love with the words on a page.” For her, everything could be edited. Said one faculty member: “She gave speeches around the nation without notes, she was that good. She helped many beyond the written word, advising and helping them publish and value their many contributions.”

Elizabeth remained engaged and productive as a consultant to many to the end of her life, and published the book “Writing Winning Proposals For Nurses and Health Care Professionals” with Dr. Funk just this past year.

“She was a mentor and expert guide and a loved friend and colleague to many,” said Donna Havens, professor and interim dean. “This is a tremendous loss for our School and to the nursing world—she was an incredibly positive legend, world-wide. I join my colleagues in acknowledging my profound good fortune to have worked closely with Elizabeth and to have counted her a friend. We will miss her dearly.

Details regarding Elizabeth’s services can be found here. Details regarding a planned School of Nursing celebration of Elizabeth’s life and work will follow soon.