Dorchester buried one of its favorite sons this week when Judge Paul Murphy was laid to rest. A graduate of St. Mark’s School, BC High, Boston College, and Harvard Law School and a Korean war veteran, Judge Murphy had a long and distinguished career; first as a state representative and then as First Justice of the West Roxbury District Court.
Essentially shy and reserved, he nonetheless was an effective politician who won the respect and admiration of his colleagues as much for his humility as for his brilliant mind.
He became the House majority leader recognized widely for his loyalty, good advice, and sound judgment. Even after he became a judge, legislative leaders would call upon him for advice and counsel.
Comfortable yet not entirely at home in the world of politics, the five-term state representative from Wards 16 and 17, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Frank Sargent. For this compassionate man, the move provided the opportunity to more directly affect the lives of the many unfortunate souls that appeared before him daily.
More scholar than political activist, he, in his own quiet way, tried to help people repair their broken lives. He learned Spanish so he could better address the problems of the many Hispanics he met on court business.
For relaxation, Paul read widely. His lobby was filled with books on literature, history, philosophy, and theology. The scope of his knowledge and the depth of his insights became evident at a great books seminar sponsored for judges by Brandeis University.
I was in a group of about twelve judges, including Judge Murphy, that met with a professor at Brandeis University to discuss literary themes relating to truth and justice in an assigned reading program. Of the books we were to read I can only remember a few: Billy Budd, Edge of Darkness, and Moby Dick.
We gathered for the seminar and the professor began to lead the discussion. We quickly saw that Paul was in his element. As the professor was struggling in his efforts to provoke discussion, the normally quiet judge took over.
He became the discussion leader, pointing out themes, drawing comparisons, and probing the depths in what was a brilliant discussion that ranged through literature, symbolism, philosophy, and theology. Even the professor was impressed.
There was the true Paul Murphy – scholar and teacher. In another life, he could have been a philosopher, theologian, or bishop. Perhaps he was more comfortable in a world of ideas, a place more powerful and compelling than the often dry strictures of the law.
He was a very wise and interesting man whose understanding of law, truth, and justice went far beyond the narrow confines of a law library. There were just too many other interesting topics. When traveling on vacation, he frequented libraries and bookstores; always at home in the life of the mind.
District Court judging is more like laboring in the vineyard than an academic pursuit. For years Paul worked the vineyard in a busy court that was outdated and badly in need of repair. Finally, he had the opportunity to participate in the design and construction of a new courthouse, which formally opened about 15 years ago.
Tragically, he was seriously injured in an automobile accident shortly before the opening. After a long period of recovery, he was still not well enough to return to the bench, and so he retired. For years afterward, he could be seen walking around Dorchester and in various libraries, content among his beloved books.
A good and kind man with a brilliant mind has passed on. May he forever enjoy the company of family and friends and the companionship of scholars like himself, full of lively discussion.
All rise! Judge Paul Murphy’s session is now adjourned.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.