Massachusetts · School Talk

Two of the Best Teachers I Ever Had: Mrs. Goddard Delivers the Eulogy for Mr. Murphy

I had Mrs. Goddard in 10th and 12th grade and yesterday she gave the eulogy for her colleague and friend of five decades, Gerry Murphy, who I had for two classes during my senior year.  It is hard to put into words what these teachers have meant to so many students—so hard that I’ve been trying to do it for days and still haven’t succeeded, though I am not giving up. I had the privilege of attending the funeral yesterday and hearing Mrs. Goddard—who I now call Jeanie— offer up these beautiful remarks in honor of her—well, our—beloved Mr. Murphy. It is my honor to share them with you. (And at the end, you will see a poem written by Brooks Goddard, also a beloved teacher and friend—about how Gerry Murphy was a baseball man. It is awesome, especially for Red Sox fans.)

Quintessential Gerry Murphy!


When great trees fall 
rocks on distant hills shudder, 
lions hunker down
in tall grasses, 
and even elephants lumber after safety.
When great trees fall in forests
small things recoil into silence,
their senses eroded beyond fear.

Maya Angelou clearly knew how we all feel today. Gerry was indeed a great tree, and he sheltered us for so long. Gerry and I became fast friends in the fall of 1965 when I was student teaching at Wellesley HS. Here was a man who knew everything about politics, about baseball, about resistance and protest. Here was a man who taught history and political science as if his life depended on it. I wanted to be that kind of teacher. A year later when the legendary Wilbury Crockett hired me to teach English, I was warned by an overeager assistant principal that hanging around too much with members of the history department like Gerry Murphy would not be a good career move. As a child of the sixties, that warning only persuaded me that being Gerry’s friend for life was an absolute moral imperative. We were, and we have been friends for over 50 years.

Being friends with Gerry was always an adventure. Yes, he struggled with demons, but mostly he was the most magical of life forces. His phone calls often began with a rant—frequently focused on whoever might be occupying the White House. Given Gerry’s passionate loyalty to the Democratic party, you can only imagine how exhausting it has been these past two years talking Gerry off the political cliff, not just every day, but multiple times a day….and our sports teams! During this past October, we must have called each other 4 to 5 times minimum during every playoff game. “Gad! he’s bringing in Kimbrel! No!” We spoke endlessly during the 18 inning loss during the World Series, or as Gerry and I called it, “The Eovaldi as Hemingway Hero moment!” He would go on and on—“Is Kyrie Irving toxic?” “What the hell is wrong with the running game?” “We are done… we are behind 28-3, the Pats will never win this Super Bowl.” Before the early 2000s, his pessimistic prognostications were always prescient, and we wore our suffering like a badge of honor. But in the last 2 decades, he has learned to embrace success. Gerry, however, never took any game, any title, any victory for granted. How he would be railing to me about the current play of our beloved Sox. I actually reached for the phone to call him when the ball fell between Mookie and JBJ 2 days ago. Last place would not make our Murph a happy lad. To say I shall miss these daily phone calls does not begin to capture my grief.

My sainted mother Betty adored Gerry, and when she was outraged that he did not receive an appointment she thought he deserved, she decided that she would write him in on the state ballot for every ensuing election. During the last time she voted, I propped her up at the little cubicle and took my own ballot to the next one. After a few moments, she sang out, “Jeanie, who do you think Gerry would like to be this year? Do you think governor?” I told her that Gerry would love to be governor. So she wrote him in. We agreed on the way back to her nursing home that Mitt Romney was indeed a distant second to our Gerry.

Teaching Humanities in the same classroom for over 30 years with Gerry was the privilege of a lifetime. Yes, we probably did mentor each other ultimately, but during those first few decades I learned how to teach from Gerry. No one could hold forth quite like Gerry…he could not help himself. Although he loved to tease me whilst I carried on about Hamlet or Malcolm X or The Things They Carried. “Don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here by the geraniums washing the windows.” Of course, within moments, he would be chirping in with his brilliant insights about the literature we were studying. As proof of his literary acumen and prodigious memory, I offer a story that many of you might have heard before—it is iconic Murphy at work. During the fall of 1971, the students, terrified about the impending draft lottery, were discussing the seemingly endless war in Vietnam. There was a pause in the conversation, and suddenly, in the quiet of the classroom, Gerry began to quote from memory the final stanza of Matthew Arnold’s great poem “Dover Beach.”

Ah love, let us be true to one another!
For the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain, 
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Gerry was weeping by the final line. The students were stunned…stunned by the power of the poem, and stunned by the unexpected emotion of Gerry’s recitation. But they knew, as we know today, that Gerry’s very teaching life belies Matthew Arnold’s despair, that a life dispelling ignorance, providing perspective, nurturing the heart is the most heroic, the most affirmative of lives.

Reading the many cards and letters and speaking to so many of Gerry’s former students during the past several months have confirmed the prodigious scope and breadth of his influence. As Shaun Kelly said this week, “Murph camped out in one’s soul and never left.” He absolutely was in the room where it happened—the classroom. His students, yes, but even more importantly, his children and grandchildren were at the center of Gerry’s heart. How he would regale me with their exploits, their achievements, their gifts, their glories. He loved them with a ferocity and a joy that knew no bounds. They all are part of his legacy, and it is a shining legacy. Gerry really will live forever.

So I return to wise Maya Angelou’s poem for a final affirmation of our dear friend:

And when great souls die, 
after a period, peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us,
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

~Jeanie Goddard, April 6, 2019

It didn’t feel right to take a picture of Jeanie Goddard inside the church during her remarks so here she is speaking at Simmons College in 2011.

Gerry Murphy Was a Baseball Man

by Brooks Goddard

Loved the game, played it hard. Not many people know that he played every position. Leftfield was his favorite; he embraced the Green Monster and deking runners into trying for 3rd base by pretending to lose the ball in the corner, then picking it up and nailing the bastard. Knew about the outhouse behind the scoreboard before Manny did. Center was OK, but it was center, the middle, not where Gerry saw himself standing. As you might suspect, he loathed right. He loathed everything about right: the sun and faux politicians in the front row. He just wanted out. 

Gerry actually cherished playing 2nd base because he could pull that hidden ball trick; Ricky Henderson hated him for that. Shortstop, Gerry always felt, was an insult, made him think he was too short for the game. Which in a way he was. Thus he was challenged when playing first but learned how to step toward the throw, and, yes, pull his foot off a few times back in the day when the umpire merely listened for the pop in the glove beating the runner’s step on the bag. Naturally, he was irate when caught. At third and catcher, Gerry could use his strong and accurate throwing arm to great advantage. He was the Earl Battey of his time.
Of course he loved pitching, wanted to go at least 7 innings every time. Like Eddie Lopat, he tantalized batters with junk and trash-talked them when he struck them out. He also managed a bit where he employed his amazing knowledge of the game and his own instincts. The name Pinky Higgins would send Murph into paroxysms of anger, but he ultimately recovered his cool, and much later his sessions with Alex Cora resulted in great success. What many do not know is that he was an occasional umpire; his immortal moment was in early 1975 when Yaz was so mad at a called 3rd strike that he covered home plate with dirt and threw down his batting helmet. What was Gerry to do? He had to throw him out of the game. 

While he loved 2004, Gerry never really got over 1948. The ill-fated 1940s were his formative years as a baseball fan, but he eventually did have two special baseball moments. The first was on October 21, 1975, with Gerry in the third base stands for what is now simply called Game 6 when Fiske hit his famous homerun and organist John Kiley broke out in the Hallelujah Chorus. The second was on August 17, 2009, when, because I had a connection, Bobby Doerr telephoned him for a brief chat. Gerry told him with great gratitude that when he was a kid he would run to his Cambridge home, turn on the Red Sox, and wait for tales of Bobby Doerr’s baseball magic. Two weeks later a signed bat and ball arrived at Gerry’s house. Gerry gave me the bat, and the ball will be buried with Gerry. I know that Gerry is no longer here, but I still see him out in the bullpen warming up: “Always good for two, coach, always good for two.”

~Brooks Goddard, April 6, 2019

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