Graduating CSU Student Pays Tribute to Parents, Sister Killed in Plane Crash

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Christen Bartley fully expected to share her Columbus State University graduation day with her parents and sister.

Those plans changed for the CSU psychology major on July 8, 2012 when her father, Columbus podiatrist Dr. James Bartley Jr., her mother, Terry, and her sister, Caroline, all perished in a plane crash near New Site, Miss. Dr. Bartley was piloting a Piper PA-32 plane from the family’s vacation home near Andrews, N.C., to Oxford, Miss., where Caroline was a student at Ole Miss.

“It’s going to be real hard because that’s a moment you want to share with your family,” said Bartley, who will receive one of 598 degrees — 166 graduate, 432 undergraduate — that will be awarded during Columbus State’s fall commencement at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9 in the Columbus Civic Center. "My family and I were extremely, extremely close. My mom was probably my best friend, and my little sister was also my best friend. They were just such a big part of my life.”

With the ceremony coming during the holidays, it has been especially difficult for Bartley, who still struggles with her loss.

“It’s just so different now,” Bartley said. “I try to make the best of it and think about the things I am fortunate for. Even having them for 23 years and having the amazing family that I had. That’s more than a lot a people have the opportunity to have.”

She now sees the tragedy as part of a “bigger plan.”

“There was a quote in a movie — I can’t remember what it is — but it was like, ‘Our finite mind cannot understand God’s infinite plan.’ Of course, at the onset of the accident, all I could think about was how angry I was, and that there’s no way there was something bigger than what happened,” she said. “Maybe it was to stop me from dealing with some horrible tragedy later in life. Or maybe God knew this was the extra push I needed to get in there and finish my school and take life seriously. Because you don’t know how short it is.”

Bartley tried to come back to school after the tragedy, but discovered she needed more time to grieve.

“I wanted a sense of normalcy, but I just couldn’t hang with it,” Bartley said of her studies. “All my professors were really cool about it and gave me incompletes for that semester. And after that semester, I came right back.”

Upon returning to school, she concentrated on her studies with a greater determination to graduate, which she felt her family expected of her.

“Both my parents had graduate degrees,” Bartley said. “It’s something that was really important to them. They supported me through school, trying to help me out. I just know that’s what they would have wanted to happen. That I wasn’t going to give up on all that (education) because I was depressed over what happened.”

What’s next for Bartley is an extended break. Sort of. She is considering spending six months doing mission work through her grandmother’s church. Then she has her sights set on earning her master's in psychology, or more.

“I might go all the way through and get a Ph.D.,” Bartley said.  

This fall commencement’s keynote speaker will be state Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs. Receiving honorary doctorate degrees will be Ray and Evelyn Crowley, who have been active Columbus State University supporters for more than four decades.

Erhart serves in Georgia’s District 36, representing Northwest Cobb County. First elected in 1988, he is the longest-serving Republican in the state House of Representatives.  He’s on the House Appropriations Committee, serving as chairman of its Higher Education Subcommittee. He also serves on the House’s Banks and Banking, Higher Education, Rules, and State Institutions and Property committees.

In 1986, Ray Crowley was elected to the CSU Foundation’s Board of Trustees and chaired the university’s first-ever capital campaign, the Campaign for Excellence, in the mid-1980s. At the time, it was the Columbus region’s most successful capital campaign ever.

During the campaign, the Crowleys made a gift that resulted in establishing the Ray and Evelyn Crowley Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship in CSU’s Turner College of Business. In 2007, the couple established the Linda U. Hadley Scholarship Endowment in honor of the leadership demonstrated by Dean Linda Hadley in successfully pursuing international accreditation for the Turner College through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, better known as AACSB International, reflecting the highest standard of achievement for business schools worldwide.    

Evelyn Crowley has served on the boards of the Columbus Museum, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, St. Anne Catholic Church, Anne Elizabeth Shepherd Home and the Muscogee County Literacy Committee. She’s also the recipient of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Vision in the Arts Award.

For more information about CSU’s fall 2013 commencement, visit

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