Remembering an honorable man

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sunset on a hay bale

“Selflessness. Humility. Truthfulness. These are the 3 marks of an honorable man.”

— Suzy Kassem

One conversation with a teacher in high school has stayed with me all these years, which speaks of the power of eloquence.

“There will be people and circumstance which will say ‘you can’t possibly do this,’ and it’s up to you if you choose to listen or to prevail.”

I wrote this in my diary that night, and I have called on these great words more than I can count. Mrs. Olive Murray’s words became even more meaningful when I met her only son, attorney O. Joseph Murray, of whom she spoke with pride. It was well-deserved.

Remembering Joe

Joe Murray has been described as a mischievous, handsome, fun-loving, athletic boy. At the age of 13, his robust drive to play football was forever changed by polio. As his mother, our high school librarian, explained to me, it was in large part up to her to set the tone for her children who contracted polio in 1950, five years before a vaccine would become available. She knew there were challenges that could never be reversed; she also taught her children to see all of their abilities rather than their sudden disabilities.

The life of Joe Murray proved his remarkable abilities. After completing studies at Kenyon College and Michigan Law School, he returned to his Ohio hometown and practiced law for 50 years, including as Ashland County Prosecutor for eight years and as Ashland County law librarian.

His professional accomplishments were many. Serving as Assistant Attorney General for Ohio and on two school boards, he was also acting judge for Ashland Municipal Court for 10 years.

Through it all, he was a much-loved Sunday school teacher at First United Methodist Church for many years.

Honorable man

What will long be remembered in my home county is that Joe Murray was an honorable man. He listened with a selfless spirit and a driving desire to aid those who needed help. He was known as the man who accepted payment in the form of farm produce, maple syrup or lawn mowing services when cash was impossible to come by.

Though he never spoke of it, those with knowledge say thousands of good people were provided his legal services free of charge over his many years, because he believed it was the right thing to do.

The first time I heard this, I was a young reporter. I set out to meet this man who I had, in a way, come to know through his mother’s stories. Unable to secure an appointment, I decided to show up at his office and wait. Instead of calling me back to his office, Mr. Murray came to me, warm and welcoming.

What I expected would be a brief hello instead evolved into an unforgettable conversation with a kind, generous man with a sparkling spirit and a curiosity that surprised me. He was as interested in my story as I was in his. We discovered a shared appreciation for great books and good music. His willingness to share knowledge was generous in a wonderfully humble way.

Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I thanked him and said I was heading to the courthouse. He accompanied me, and I had a hard time keeping pace with this strong and vibrant man. Within the courthouse, he was greeted by people of all ages.

Respect

Respect and admiration for attorney Murray ran high, and this remained true throughout his 50 years of service. He never discussed or acknowledged a disability, and it most definitely did not define him.

Years later, I was amazed to receive a letter of thanks from this revered man. It came after I had written a series filled with local history drawn from the life-long diaries of a man who had once lived in rural Ashland County in the mid-1800s.

Just a few weeks ago, while going through some of my files, I came across attorney Murray’s letter to me and it still moved me to tears of grateful appreciation. I realize how lucky I am to have known him.

I learned this past week of his death at age 84. He was surrounded by family in his home. It is impossible to imagine their great loss, and the empty place left by a beloved man who was larger than life.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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