Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Pat Murphy we knew


Readers tipped over their coffee cups on this page of the paper for the past 13 years as their encounters with the opinions of columnist Pat Murphy either enraged them or gave them new courage.

We suspect that some computer keyboards around the country may have suffered a caffeine bath or two as well.

Murphy died Saturday the way he lived, battling forces that sometimes turned out to be greater than he, but never greater than his spirit and resolve.

He would be irritated that this column is about him. He would dismiss it and say something like, "Forget it. Do something important."

Before he reluctantly set aside his laptop to have surgery last spring, Murphy wrote two months of columns in advance. He insisted that the newspaper not publish a notice that he was on medical leave because he intended to get fixed up and back to writing before anyone noticed he'd been gone.

Some people ask for pain meds after surgery. Murphy always wanted his laptop. "Writing is medicine," he said.

Murphy's incisive national editorial and column writing brought readers out of their seats and drove them to their typewriters or keyboards to try to set him straight.

When the Internet came along, his column and editorials provoked virtual blistering brawls of online rhetoric. The words that fueled the fights were words like scurrilous, disgraceful, parsimonious, ghastly, shameful, sleazy, braggarts, dupes and know-nothings.

The objects of Murphy's derision ranged from blundering or corrupt politicians to "greedy executives, cooked books, auditors that didn't do their jobs, congressional oversight committees that didn't oversee, regulators who didn't regulate."

Of politicians he wrote, "the political class has chosen to mire down in piffling thought and flinty catchphrases that merely humiliate the nation."

He detested tyrants and hypocrites. He wanted readers to be smart and wanted editors to serve up hearty fare.

He once lambasted the editors of two national news weeklies as running "the risk of treating readers as gullible nincompoops by bestowing superlatives that fail reality checks."

Some readers were taken by surprise when his column on the death of his old yellow lab moved them to tears. This Pat Murphy, whose career had spanned the globe, would substitute in the newsroom only if he could take an hour every afternoon to walk his beloved dogs.

This Pat Murphy also hated to travel away from the Wood River Valley because, he said, "Why would anyone want to leave paradise?"

Some readers were also surprised that the same man who decried the Iraq War and exhorted the U.S. to extricate itself from Afghanistan was a decorated (Bronze Star) Korean War veteran who wore his dashing First Cavalry Division hat as he paid his respects to the fallen at Memorial Day ceremonies every year.

Gruff, proud and courageous Pat Murphy, this one's for you.

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