Obituary: Marian Murphy was a caregiver with a wicked backhand

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2012 - 8:57 PM

The years finally forced Marian Murphy to give up her beloved game of tennis about six years ago, but not before she hit the court with her portable oxygen unit strapped on.

"After about 10 minutes the guys told her she had to stop," her daughter, Mary Ellen Spector Murphy, recalled. "She just didn't want to give up."

It was classic Marian Murphy, her daughter said, fully engaged in life -- an unflappable psychiatric nurse with a wicked backhand.

Murphy of Minneapolis died Oct. 12 of heart failure following a long illness. She was 87.

Born on a farm near St. Martin, Minn., Marian Ann Lauer was the second of six children. She stood just over 5 feet tall -- a large spirit in a small body. She eventually became a nurse.

While working in St. Cloud she was set up on a date with Barney Murphy, a handsome Irishman who was a fabulous dancer despite having lost part of a leg in a railroad accident. They married and had their only child, Mary Ellen.

Barney died suddenly of kidney problems when Marian was only about 29, Mary Ellen recalled.

Trying to pick up the pieces, Marian took a nursing job at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in St. Cloud. Thus started a decades-long career in psychiatric nursing that saw significant changes in patient treatment, recalled Mary Ellen, of Minneapolis. Marian Murphy eventually became director of the hospital's outpatient clinic.

"She's always had this love of people who aren't normally accepted in the world," Mary Ellen said.

Mentors on the VA staff encouraged her mother to return to school, Mary Ellen said, and she eventually earned a master's in psychiatric nursing from the University of Iowa. She taught student nurses for years, and also served as president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

After retiring in about 1982, Murphy moved to a condo near Loring Park in Minneapolis. She remarried but later divorced. She remained active, working a number of jobs, including stints at the convention center, the Sheriff's Office and in traffic court where she handled people coming in to pay their fines. She had no fear of conflict, Mary Ellen said.

A lifelong tennis player, Murphy was fiercely competitive on the court and played to win. She was a member of the Senior Tennis Players Club of Minnesota and could be seen at the Reed-Sweatt facility on Nicollet playing in colorful tennis skirts. She represented Minnesota at the U.S. Senior Olympics three times.

"She had a wicked backhand and a very strong serve," her daughter said.

Her two grandsons recall her filling a crucial parenting role when their own father died.

Ben, a lawyer in Minneapolis, said she picked him up from preschool and strolled him around the lakes. She spoiled him with toys but also impressed upon him the importance of working hard.

"She taught me that having love in your heart is a great way to be successful," he said.

Marian Murphy is survived by her daughter and her grandsons. Her funeral mass was held Wednesday at the Basilica of St. Mary.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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