Walter F. Murphy 5 Replies Walter F. Murphy, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus, passed away on April 20, 2010.
Walter F. Murphy was certainly one of the brightest shining lights of the Politics Department when I spent the early 1980’s with the dept. He will always be in my fondest memories of my time there. I have always been proud of the fact that Walter was so appreciative of what others did for him, even when it meant just doing your job, that he added me in his acknowledgements to his book Constitutional Interpretation. It has been a very sad few months of those from Politics dept. that each spent decades with the department with the loss of: June Traube, Mildred Kalmus, Stanley Kelley and now Sir Walter Murphy. All within a matter of five months time. May they all rest in peace. I hope they’re playing poker together….like old times.
Walter was a scholar of astonishing accomplishments, producing important work in empirical political science, political philosophy, constitutional theory, and comparative law. He was also a bestselling novelist: his book The Vicar of Christ is a fun read.
But I want to say a bit about the kind of person he was. Losing him is a hard blow for me. Walter gave me my first academic job, as an assistant professor at Princeton, and he went out of his way to welcome me and my family to town. He was as kind and helpful a senior colleague as one could hope for. But he was more than that. He was warm and funny. My wife and I were having dinner at his house, where he had at least four very large and friendly cats. We mentioned that we had three. He said, “three cats! You must not be very intelligent,” and delivered the line with such a studied deadpan that it took a moment to catch the twinkle in his eye. That kind of self-effacing humor was typical of him. His life was hard in many ways. He spent years devotedly caring for his wife, Terry, after her stroke. But I never heard him complain. Walter was a mensch.
Walter told me he was dying of cancer the last time we talked, perhaps a month ago. He wasn’t then expecting it to carry him off so fast, but the doctors had told him he didn’t have more than two years. I said how sorry I was to hear the news. “*You’re* sorry!”, he said, delivering the line like the punchline of a joke. I could see him smiling on the other end of the phone. I hope, when the time comes for me to make my exit, that I can pull it off with such remarkable good grace.
Professor Murphy was my thesis advisor. After taking Constitutional Interpretation as a junior and being the only female in the precept he led, I knew that he would make me work hard on that beloved senior project all Princetonians must endure. As I sat outside his office door most Thursday afternoons waiting to turn in a chapter or just discuss the newest idea, I would think about the advice he left me with after every meeting – “Work hard, yet cheerfully”. As a student from a tiny public high school in a tiny town in New Jersey who often questioned whether the admissions office had made a mistake letting me in, the fact that this high-powered professor was so incredibly down to earth and took a true and personal interest in me and my work was absolutely amazing. Professor Murphy was a mentor in the truest sense of the word, an incredible man and teacher, and he will be greatly missed.
Walter and Terry were stupendous additions to our lives — my wife Pat and I — when they moved to Albuquerque to retire in 1995. Walter suffered yet another “heart event” shortly after he arrived here while Terry and I visited him in the hospital while also searching around for tile for installation in their newly-purchased home. Our lunches and dinners with them over the years were countless, and Walter’s tender loving care for Terry in her affliction was extremely moving. Walter generously critiqued the entirety of the second edition of my AMERICAN JUDICIAL POLITICS, and while we sometimes differed on how to write a good sentence, his comments contributed enormously to improving my work. I suppose what impressed me the most about Walter, and endeared me to him, was the wide gap between his incredible accomplishments as a scholar and his personal warmth and friendliness toward all who had contact with him. His singular unpretentiousness, so often noted by others who knew him, stood out above almost all other traits. And his never-failing sense of humor so very much enhanced the pleasure of his company. I shall miss him greatly!
I knew Walter Murphy as Lt. Murphy, my platoon Leader of 2nd Platoon Easy Co., 1st Marines almost 60 years ago in Korea. He led our rifle platoon up Hill 676 on June 10, 1951 for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. He was 21 and I was 20 on that terrifying day when only 14 of 41 Marines reached the top of Hill 676.
I remember Lt.Murphy as a young, courageous, cheerful leader who always put his Marines’ welfare first. May he rest in peace. Semper Fi ” Mr. Murph ” !