Funeral services for Peabody school superintendent to be held at City Hall

A flag at half-staff Saturday outside Peabody City Hall, where funeral services for school Superintendent Cara E. Murtagh will be held next week.
A flag at half-staff Saturday outside Peabody City Hall, where funeral services for school Superintendent Cara E. Murtagh will be held next week.Kathy McCabe/Globe Staff
Cara Murtagh

Funeral services for Peabody school Superintendent Cara E. Murtagh, who died suddenly Friday, will be held next week at Peabody City Hall, her family announced.

A wake will be held Thursday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Wiggin Auditorium. Her funeral will be held there Friday at 10 a.m., according to her obituary.

Murtagh, 44, died at Salem Hospital, the obituary said. The cause of death was not specified.

She worked for 23 years in the Peabody schools, rising from teacher to vice principal and principal at the Carroll School, before serving as principal of the Center School for one year, the obituary said.


She was the assistant superintendent for six years, before starting as superintendent of the nearly 6,000-student school district in July 2018.

“Cara was a kind, generous and giving person who always put the students first,” her family wrote in the obituary. “She worked tirelessly . . . to ensure that the children’s needs were always met first.”

A graduate of Emmanuel College, Murtagh was a humble educator whose accomplishments were often “unseen by the general public, just the way she would have wanted it to be,” her family wrote.

In Murtagh’s honor, Peabody schools will be dismissed early Thursday, and school has been canceled for Friday, the district announced on its website.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who also serves as chairman of the School Committee, announced Murtagh’s death to the public Friday. Bettencourt did not return calls from the Globe on Saturday.

School Committee member Brandi Carpenter said the panel met in executive session Saturday to discuss how best to prepare the school district to move on without its popular leader.

“She was very special, she was one of a kind, she was my friend,” Carpenter said, “and truly somebody I believed would be in the job for 20 years or more.”


On Monday, the start of school will be delayed two hours to allow principals, teachers, and staff at each of the district’s 10 schools to plan best how to discuss Murtagh’s death with students, Carpenter said.

“At this point in time, we need to just get through the next few weeks and make sure our principals and other leaders feel supported,” she said.

Carpenter affectionately called Murtagh “the epitome of a Peabody true blue Tanner,” referring to Peabody High’s traditional school color and nickname.

Joseph Amico, another school committee member, said Murtagh was often “the first one in the office, and the last to leave.”

“She never wanted credit, she was real,” Amico said in a phone interview Saturday night. “Someone in her position can look for accolades, she never wanted that. She did right by people because she just was a great person.”

Murtagh was the daughter of the late John M. “Jack” Murtagh, who was principal of the Kiley Brothers Memorial School in Peabody for 37 years until his retirement.

She is survived by her mother, Carol (Santangelo) Murtagh, a sister, Kim Murtagh, both of Peabody, and a brother, Sean of Greenbush, N.Y., her obituary said.

Her family asked that donations in her memory be made to the Peabody Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for the district.

Jordan Frias can be reached at jordan.frias@globe.com.