Deaths in the family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

Relatively few of Notre Dame’s 96,000 alumni may recognize the name JAMES E. MURPHY ’47, who passed away last September of 2002 at age 78 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. But the retired associate vice president for university relations played an integral role in shaping the public’s perception of the University for four decades.

A soft-spoken man with a gentle wry wit, Murphy served as the University’s chief public relations officer from 1952 until his retirement 40 years later. He was the quintessential “man behind the scenes” involved in media relations, special-events programming, alumni relations and public relations support for five fund-raising campaigns. A discreet man of detail and protocol — his son, Michael, confessed he never was sure of his father’s political affiliation — Murphy coordinated numerous University events involving political figures, statesmen, celebrities and business leaders.

He accompanied Father Hesburgh to the White House to present President John F. Kennedy the 1961 Laetare Medal and was a liaison to White House and Secret Service personnel for campus visits by presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, Reagan and the elder Bush. Murphy enrolled at Notre Dame in 1941, however he didn’t complete his degree in English until 1947 after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He pursued graduate studies at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and worked as a news editor for the American Broadcasting Company and in public relations for the American Legion before returning to Notre Dame in 1952. As a student in 1942, Murphy took part in Notre Dame’s centennial celebration; 50 years later he culminated his Notre Dame career as executive director of the University’s 13-month observance of its sesquicentennial.

In his homily at the Sacred Heart Basilica funeral mass, Father Hesburgh said, “Jim had a long, faithful career extolling our Lady’s University. He worked long, quiet hours in the Main Building producing reams and reams of press releases, certificates, honorary degree and Laetare Medal citations, and he did so excellently. We don’t think often enough of those who work in quiet, faithful and excellent ways like Jim Murphy, but it’s people like Jim who help us live up to the dreams of our youth.”

REV. MARK J. FITZGERALD, CSC., ’28, the labor priest who was a part of the campus landscape for generations, died in September, 2002. His strict adherence to a low-fat diet and near-religious devotion to exercise apparently paid off as he was 96 at his passing and had continued to be involved in campus events and labor relations issues almost until the end. “Father Fitz,” as he was known, worked at Notre Dame for more than 50 years, primarily teaching economics but also serving in the residence halls and several administrative posts.

He was a legendary figure on campus and well known in the Great Lakes region for his involvement in labor-management issues. In 1946, six years after being ordained, he was honored by the U.S. government for his service on the War Labor Board. He wrote numerous books on management and labor and became widely known as an effective, no-nonsense arbitrator. In 1953 he launched an annual conference that brought together hundreds of top officials from unions and corporate America. The conferences continued until two years ago. He also led a long-running annual lecture series sponsored by the United Steelworkers of America. Shy and somewhat secretive, he preferred not to credited for accomplishments or have people know he’d helped them. At his own labor-management conferences he would remain offstage and ask others to introduce the speakers.

For decades the little priest could be seen jogging the perimeter of the campus golf course with a book in hand or, later, listening to books on tape. Always interested in improving his mind, he was often memorizing literary passages and long poems, which he was known to recite. He was familiar to generations of workers in the Main Building, tottering up the stairs into his 90s (in his younger days he ran). He lived under the Dome as a freshman in 1924 and kept an office there until the building closed for renovations in June 1997. Most of those years he had a large space on the fourth floor. In the final few he worked out of a converted ladies room off a stairway landing.