Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bill Murphy's Memorial Service Eulogy

For those of you who didn't have the pleasure of hearing it in person, here is the Eulogy for Bill Murphy that was given by his son, Bill Murphy Jr. at his celebration of life today in Jackson. A great tribute to a man who obviously touched a lot of people...


Eulogy for Bill Murphy

“You are what you love, not what loves you”: That is a line from Susan Orlean’s 1998 novel The Orchid Thief, which became the film Adaptation, 2002. When I first read that line, I thought a lot about it, about how unhappy we sometimes allow ourselves to become when the person whom we love does not love us in return. Donald Kaufman, the character in the film who speaks that line, who expresses that philosophy—and it is a philosophy, a fonn of wisdom—loved a woman who did not love him, yet he is untroubled, perhaps even content. It is enough, he says, to love; it will suffice. To ask for or to expect any more than that is to be selfish, greedy, a sort of emotional glutton.
When my sister asked me to speak today about our father, I soon realized that the best way to recall and honor his life would be to talk briefly about some of the things my Dad loved. We are, after all, what we love, not what loves us.

My Dad loved the sea. He was born in 1929 and grew up in East Boston, swimming and fishing in Boston Harbor. When I was born in 1948, he was working cutting fish at the Boston Fish Pier; weekends he spent fishing or island exploring in Boston Harbor. Some of my earliest memories involve the East Boston Yacht Club down on the end of Jeffrey’s Point, where my Dad kept his boat and had a locker for his gear and a bunk. Because he knew so much about the sea, and especially commercial fishing, my Dad was able to acquire in 1956 a j oh with the federal government, a job that became his career. Until he retired, he work for the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, at first in Maine and then in Rhode Island and Connecticut, visiting seaports, fishing vessels, and various seafood dealerships, gathering and compiling statistics for the government. I remember how all the fishermen liked and respected him, trusting that he would not tell the government anything that the government did not need to know. Many of the boat captains would often put aside for my Dad an especially nice Pollock or Flounder or Lobster; therefore, we always had fresh fish at home. All his life my Dad loved nothing so well as good seafood: steamed clams, fish chowder, boiled lobster, blue crabs, little necks on the half shall, conch salad, fried smelts and flounder, and stuffed quahogs. If you knew my Dad, you knew the delight he took in catching, filleting, shucking, cooking, and eating such food.

My Dad loved to run. When we still lived in East Boston, he took up the sport of long distance running. Running was a lot different back then in the Fifties than it is now: the sight of someone running in trunks on the street was very strange, even suspicious. Anyone seen running on the streets back then was perceived as somehow un-American, no doubt either a criminal on the lam or a Communist. Even the Boston Marathon in those days would be lucky to field a hundred runners, all male. But still, my Dad pursued the sport with a sort of monomania, training twice a day, before and after work, and on the weekends. During racing season, which lasted from early spring to fall, we would travel to races throughout New England and he would race against the same guys week after week, winning a toaster in Athol, Mass. one Saturday or a waffle iron in Westerly, Rhode Island the next.
My Dad ran for a team called the B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) whose members sported yellow and blue uniforms with a unicorn on the jersey; but there was a number of other teams as well, the whole constituting a sort of amateur multiethnic fraternity, Irishmen, Italians, Franco-Americans, Native Americans, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and blacks who all ran long distance because they loved to run long distances. They loved to push themselves against themselves, to see how far they could expand their own physical and psychological perimeters, to discover the limits of endurance. On some level, the competition was not so much other men, other runners, as it was the self that inner voice that kept clamoring for attention, for rest, for oxygen, for surcease of aching gut, bruised bone, and burning muscle. That voice was what my Dad sought to beat, back then in the Fifties and Sixties and right up to the end.

Why anyone should love such a struggle, I do not know, but my Dad did love it. It was his personal battlefield, his private heroism. He never won a major race, but that really did not matter: what did matter in the world of long distance running was whether or not one finished. That was the question I heard over and over again when I was a boy: did you finish? To finish was grounds for satisfaction, not to finish was grounds for dismay. Still, at the top of his game, my Dad did more than just finish: he once came in third at the Canadian National Marathon in Quebec and in the early Sixties placed twenty-fourth at Boston one year. I remember other boys talking about Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Piersall, and Roger Maris. My Dad’s heroes were Jim Peters, Emil Zatopek, Abebe Bikila, and the great Irish-American hope, Johnny Kelly.

This love of running led to his love of other sports and activities as well. It was his love of hiking and mountain climbing that first brought us to New Hampshire and these White Mountains. It led to his love of tennis and bicycling and skiing. It led him and Maggie to Nepal and to New Zealand, and to an epic coast-to-coast bicycle tour.

But my Dad was not just an athlete; he was an intellectual, too. He loved to read, and many of his favorite books were about endurance. Endurance, I think, was in his mind the best of virtues. Kenneth Roberts’ Benedict Arnold, the Henry David Thoreau who climbed Mt. Katahdin, Jack London in the Kiondike, Sergeant Alvin York, Ernest Shackleton, FridtjofNansen, Justice William 0. Douglass, Sir Edmund Hillary, Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea, and the legendary Gloucesterman Howard Blackburn. My Dad was always giving me books about some brave individual trudging or rowing across some wilderness of swamp or ice or ocean water, struggling to survive, to take one more step or one more pull at the oars. Literature, for my Dad, was a source of inspiration; it taught him (and me) the meaning of courage and endurance. My Dad was one of the bravest men I have ever known, from his earliest days as a fatherless boy during the Great Depression in East Boston right up to his final battle against disease. Like the displaced farmers in The Grapes of Wrath, like the blessed poor in the Sermon on the Mount, the working people, the salt of the earth, the beaten but undefeated, my Dad endured.

And finally, my Dad loved his family and his friends: Nana and Pa, Bob and Irene, Ann and Jane, his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. When he and my mother were married, and we were all much younger, my Dad worked hard and steadily to provide us all with a good home, a strong religious and moral foundation, a respect for public education, and a love of our native land. These lessons that my Dad taught us were not always received in the same spirit or form with which they were initially given, but the lessons were, nonetheless, received. My brother Tom, my sister Karen, my brother Shawn are kind and thoughtful people, the sort who work hard, take their small pleasures where they find them, with their spouses, their children, their pets, and their friends, and they do it quietly, without pushing other people around, without stepping on other people’s toes. They, we, are my father’s most enduring legacy; I know how proud he was of each of them, of us. And I am sure that I speak for all here when I say, as did Horatio at the end of Shakespeare’s great tragedy Hamlet, “Good night, sweet prince, I And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

--William J. Murphy, Jr. (3/7/08)

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