Louise Wickert Murphy would have loved to go to college, her sons say. Born in 1906, the daughter of German immigrants, she was only able to attain a high school diploma. But her lack of opportunity never dampened her love of learning and appreciation for higher education.
She married Walter Michael Murphy Sr. in 1934. They had three sons, whom she inculcated with the unshakable conviction that they would go to college. And they did, all three of them, earning their degrees at Wagner College: Walter, class of 1958; Bob, class of 1960; and Hank, class of 1963 and master’s degree class of 1969.
The brothers grew up in a cozy English Tudor home in Staten Island, just a couple of miles away from the Wagner campus. Creative, energetic, and disciplined, Mrs. Murphy filled the home with antiques that she picked up inexpensively and rehabilitated. She crocheted, knitted, and embroidered, making home decorations as well as her own dresses.
“She was a crackerjack at math, and she could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink,” Bob remembers.
Active in many social organizations, she attended carefully to her sons’ education, joining the parents’ organizations for their schools. During their years at Wagner College, she often attended campus events. She hosted their fraternity brothers for Songfest rehearsals, plying them with her homemade cakes.
All three sons became educators. A German major with a master’s from Columbia, Bob taught German and Latin for many years, retiring in 1994. Hank taught at several schools, ran the district drug prevention program, and served as the principal of PS 11 in Staten Island, retiring in 2001.
Walter earned a master’s degree in math and taught in Long Island. But he was also a U.S. Marine officer, in the reserves and active duty, and that job was his first love. He was killed in Vietnam on January 31, 1968, while rescuing his wounded men during the battle for Hue in the Tet Offensive. For his brave and selfless service he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Only a few months later, the elder Mr. Murphy died also. Mrs. Murphy went through a period of withdrawal. But then she picked up her paintbrushes again — she had begun learning the art of oil painting before this double tragedy struck. She returned to her life of learning, creativity, and social engagement. She was making brownies for her family just days before her death on April 6, 1987.
Major Walter Murphy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It has special symbolism to the family that a tree planted in honor of Gold Star Mothers, women whose sons or daughters died in military service, shades his grave. To honor her love of education, love of Wagner College, and love of her son who gave his life for his country, Bob and Hank annually award the Louise W. Murphy (Gold Star Mother) Track and Field Scholarship to a Wagner College student.
Thus, Louise Murphy continues to inspire young people to attain a higher education.