My father, John Edward Murphy, passed away on October 4th. I haven’t done much writing since I penned this for his Memorial Service. There have been many days in the past few months that I think it’ll be the last good thing I write. Time will tell or heal or both.
My dad was a character.
He had a way moving through this world that was entirely his own. From how he ate – very specifically with a special emphasis on chocolate to how he connected – usually through some kind of odd joke that was only funny because of the way he said it.
With that great sparkle in his blue eyes and the slightly mischievous grin. He was a character. I knew that well before I ever knew what the word meant. He defined many things for me through his life.
He was the source of definitions, the formative, shaping influence from which I would experience the world. In many ways, more than anyone, my father made me who I am.
How could it be any other way with Jay Murphy as your dad?
Experiencing my dad was never a passive thing. He had a way of evoking something from you – a thought, a feeling, most often a laugh.
He believed things strongly, grounded deeply in a sense of values and principles. The primary ones of loyalty, honesty, dedication to God and to country. He anchored his life in Jesus and showed that in so many ways – including the lapel pin that you’d usually see on his shirt.
To leave a mark on the world, on the people around you, to love God and neighbor, that is what we are here to do. There is no doubt that my father did that.
In our last morning together, we were recapping the week of visitors and I was telling him how much we all loved him.
My dad and I were the stoic ones in the family both sharing a penchant for dark humor so, of course, when I ventured into the zone of sentamentiality, he stopped me and made a joke about what was wrong with all of us to love him so much. We both laughed and I said well, I think I’d like to answer that if you’ll let me. He smiled and said, sure PJ. If you want.
So I told him seven things about the man I knew. The man we all loved, what we learned from him, what he was leaving with us.
First, his work ethic. No one worked harder than my father. And, it wasn’t just about hard work. It was about the pride of doing a job well, of following something through start to finish. It was honorable and something to be proud of. Even when he couldn’t work anymore, you could still see in how seriously he took any chore or assignment, that work ethic that was as part of his DNA as his blue eyes.
ALWAYS vote, participate in this incredible gift of democracy – my dad was a through and through patriot. He understood civic responsibility and valued it at his core.
Simiarly, read the newspaper, read in general – I don’t think there’s a single view we ever shared when it came to politics but from him, I learned the value of being informed. Walking up to his room last Tuesday, there was the Newark Star Ledger on his doormat, right where it was supposed to be. Until the end, he kept up on what was going on in the world. When we talked about this that last morning he said, you can’t ever stop learning. EVER. 48 hours before he died. He was still learning.
My father’s heart rested in this next one..
Give back generously and constantly – Be of service to others, no matter your circumstances you can always be generous in some way. Reminiscing with his friends Carolann and Don and my mom last night, Carolann talked about how from his youth, my dad was always the first person to stop and help someone in need. My dad was the man who changed flat tires for strangers and cleaned gutters for neighbors and built things for nonprofits. He was that kind of person. His proudest legacy of volunteerism was as a firefighter. He served with passion and dedication, putting the lives and needs of others above his own during those years as an active volunteer with TFD.
Connected to this sense of service he taught us all the value of
Being part of a community – the most recent expression of that was here at Seabrook. My dad found great joy in being connected to a sense of community, to his church to his neighbors to the people around him. In a world of networks, where we rely on technology to connect us, my father stood as the original example of what it meant to live in close relationship with others. To all of the poker and ma jong players and the RAC members and Seabrook friends, thank you for being his final community, he relished every minute of his time here.
And another way Seabrook and Sandy Cove were the perfect places for him to live his last days. My father believed you should
Always live near an ocean – This wasn’t simply a preference for him, it was an expression of a deep commitment and passion for the sea, it’s essential role in our ecology and our responsibility to protect and care for it. He even found a way through his remains to be part of the sea in an environmentally sustainable way. Like I said, he was a character.
Finally, my dad valued friends and friendship – he was the guy you could call in the middle of the night and in his earlier years, he was the one who would come bail you out of a plumbing crisis or whatever other crazy thing was happening. He cultivated long and lasting friendships. In his oldest friends, Carolann and Don Streinz, Verna and Bob Schroeter, Dottie and Ray Agolia, and in all of you here today. My dad taught us all that being a friend, having strong friendships was the secret to a good and rich life.
Those are the seven things I told him about the great man I knew. Before I wrap up, we talked about one other thing that morning, the people he loved most in this world. He wanted to make sure that they knew how much he loved them.
Starting with the most important person to him – my mom.
In good times and bad, my dad was absolutely committed to my mom.
She was the love of his life, they met while opening the Macy’s at Roosevelt Field. They started their relationship the same way it ended, as best friends
My father well known for his teasing ways, never let my mom forget that she was the one who called him for their first date. While a technicality due to the circumstances, I give her credit being ahead of her time and my Dad loved being able to tease her about it for their whole relationship.
Their first date on Valentines Day in 1959 led to a proposal in that same Macy’s parking lot.
From there a wedding where my Dad recited poetry to my mom through the whole ceremony. No one else could hear him. It was his way of creating something that only belonged to them. That’s what their love was like, a special world that belonged uniquely, solely to them.
My father was also a deeply devoted brother. He ADORED his two younger sisters. He truly loved both Karen and Sheila and was beyond grateful to them for their care and especially for helping him land here, giving him these last few fantastic years.
In my mother’s brother, Tom, my dad found a brother of his own. Something he valued so dearly. And in Tom’s family, a crew that rolls very deep Jackie, Nick, Matt, Derek, Ariana and Andrea – and especially with his godson Joey. You brought so much joy into his life.
Both my parents love extended especially to embrace their other children, ones they raised in different ways over the years and loved in all ways –
Peter, Meredith and their daughter,
Courtland and Sharon and their daughter Colleen
You all were so special to him and he wanted you to know that today. He wanted you to know how much appreciated your love even if he thought we were all crazy for loving him so much.
My dad didn’t have an easy life – his body betrayed him early once. He fought back from that and then it betrayed him again – also too young but in a different way. He suffered a lot physically and was forced to reinvent himself once he couldn’t work anymore. Over time, he carved out another kind of life but his identity, the man who taught me how to work hard, to participate, to learn, to be part of a community, to care for this planet, and to always be a good and faithful friend never change. His strength and resilience and his deep anchoring in the love of Jesus sustained him until the end.
I called him right after the pet scan two weeks ago today. I asked him how he was and he said he didn’t have long to live. The cancer was all over. I asked how he felt about that and he told me he felt good. He’d just finished a celebratory dinner at Outback. I started laughing and crying at the same time. He went on to tell me that he’d had a good life. He was ready to go home. He wanted to see his younger brother Peter and his mom, Eileen. And Mariah the dog? I asked. He laughed and said yes, definitely Mariah the dog.
The peace that had eluded my father too often in life had come to him exactly when he needed it. The grace of that peace was a gift to all of us in his final days and in that way he taught me, taught us, one last lesson in life. He taught us how to face the end of this life with courage and dignity and of course, humor.
Goodbye Dad. Thank you for all of you gave to us, for the colorful way you lived, for all the laughter and for all that I learned. You will be missed but you will never be forgotten.