Photo (above): Jim Murray and Ronald McDonald at golf outing
Making Murray on St. Patrick’s Day
By Frank Dougherty
When Jim Murray learned he had been named grand marshal for the 2014 Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, he felt he had received a blessing from Heaven.
“What a blessing to be so honored. Serving as grand marshal for this Philadelphia Irish-American tradition is a wonderful blessing and a great honor,” said Murray, general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1974 through 1983.
“I was totally stunned when the announcement was made. I had no idea I was a candidate,” added the 75-year-old native of West Philadelphia.
Murray has a long history of the wearing of the green. It started during Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations when he was a poor row house kid growing up on Brooklyn Street during the waning days of the Great Depression.
The parade will begin noon Sunday, March 16. Live TV coverage will run from 1- 4 p.m. Performers will assemble at 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard prior to stepping off toward Logan Square.
The first documented Saint Patrick’s Day celebration parade in Philadelphia was staged in 1771, five years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, according to the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association website.
The current parade, hosted by the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association, was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1952, according to its website. The association’s board of directors selected Murray to be grand marshal.
The theme for the 2014 parade is: “Saint Patrick, Bless the Contributions of Irish Americans to Our Nation.” Considering Murray’s record of accomplishment, this indeed is a fitting tribute.
Murray joined the Eagles as a public relations staffer in 1969. Five years later, he was named general manager. He wore a lot of Eagles football green during those years. And to this day he continues to wear his Super Bowl XV ring tinted in the livery of Eagles green.
A member of the West Philadelphia Catholic High School Class of 1956, Murray went on to the Villanova University.
He became involved in sports through minor league baseball in 1960 with the Tidewater Tides of the Sally League. After active duty in the Marine Corps, he returned to baseball as assistant general manager of the Atlanta Crackers, an AAA affiliate of the Saint Louis Cardinals.
He later became involved in the restaurant business in Atlanta, later in Malibu. Two years later he was back at Villanova, working in its sports information office.
Murray has fond memories of time spent in the military, contrasting his service in the Marine Corps to his religion and ethnicity.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine. It’s a value as important as my Irish heritage, and Roman Catholic faith. All three of these life-affirming influences have left an indelible mark upon my soul,” said Murray.
So did growing up in street corner society. He enjoys sharing boyhood stories, always trying to make a long story short, which, he concedes, is very difficult. “I was born on Pentecost Sunday. That’s why I never shut up,” quipped Murray.
“We were poor, but we were rich because we didn’t know we were poor,” said a reflective Murray, commenting on growing up at 812 Brooklyn Street in West Philadelphia. It was there he learned early on, “We are all in this together. Life is a team sport.”
The two-story brick row house on Brooklyn Street was home for little Jimmy Murray; his parents James and Mary, sisters Janie and Kay-Kay and brother Franny.
It was an ethnic enclave with a large number of Irish-American families, a street where Herman, the horse and wagon milkman, and the Bond Bread deliveryman worked there along the block.
The neighborhood parish was Our Mother of Sorrows on Lancaster Avenue, a big night out was a double feature at the Leader movie house, and if you took ill on Brooklyn Street, Doctor Lieberman would make a house call.
“There was one tree on the street, and two cars. Mister Davis owned a 1936 Chevrolet, won in a parish raffle at Saint Ignatius of Loyola Church. My Uncle Bob Kelly, who drove for Yellow Cab, owned a Hudson Terraplane. That was about it,” he added.
Murray and his wife of 46 years, Dianne, have five children, Karin, Amy, Jimmy IV, Brian and John Paul; and four grandchildren, Jimmy V, Erin, Annabelle and Colleen.
“We first met on the Feast of the Annunciation 52 years ago,” said Murray. Jim and Dianne currently reside in suburban Rosemont.
One characteristic trait of Murray’s is his reports on whom in the past week or so has gone to Heaven. He refers to the obituary sections in Philadelphia area newspapers as, “The Irish sports pages.”
In Murray’s view of the afterlife, all good people go to Heaven when they die. So he attends a lot of wakes and funerals.
With all his speaking engagements, there’s not lot of free time in Murray’s life. He does enjoy spending time at Sea Isle City in South Jersey, and is keen on horse racing.
Murray is one of the original founders of the Ronald McDonald House, and past president of the International Advisory Board for the Ronald McDonald Houses.
He remains active in the Ronald McDonald House program. “Whatever good years I have left, I would like to remain with McDonald’s,” said Murray.
The first Ronald McDonald House ever opened was in Philadelphia at 4032 Spruce Street on October 15, 1974. Today there are some 329 Ronald McDonald Houses in 35 countries.
The genesis of the Ronald McDonald House concept, according to Murray, was influenced by the highly successful “Eagles Fly for Leukemia” to help cancer-stricken children.
The campaign began when an Eagles player named Fred Hill was informed that his daughter, Kim, had been diagnosed with the disease. The concept was enlarged to help other sick kids in need.
Murray and the late Leonard Tose, Eagles owner at that time, sponsored a number of fundraisers. They worked with staffers at Saint Christopher’s Hospital for Children, as well as cancer specialists. They also were aided by creative advertising executives to raise money.
“One of the things we learned back then was there was no place to house sick children and their families when they came to Philadelphia for medical treatment,” said Murray.
“One doctor asked if we could buy a YMCA for families. I said, ‘This is Philly, you have to have a house in this town’,” he added.
At the same time, McDonald’s had just introduced a new dairy product nicknamed the “Shamrock Shake,” an “Irish” milkshake.
The Eagles asked McDonald’s for a 25 cents donation for every Shamrock Shake sold to fund the project. In return, Eagles quarterback Roman Gabriel would host a free TV commercial promoting the Shamrock Shake.
McDonald’s responded with a counter offer to provide all the cash if it could brand the building the Ronald McDonald House. The deal was quickly concluded.
“It was a McMiracle,” recalled Murray, crediting Saint Patrick, an “Irish” milkshake and McDonald’s for making it happen.
Over the past four decades, Murray has received dozens of local and national awards for his volunteer work with various charities, and community service organizations.
These awards include professional football’s Bert Bell Award and the Medal for Volunteers of America, presented by President Ronald Reagan during a White House ceremony.
One of his singular most memorable experiences, however, happened in August 1987 while on a visit to Rome with the late Edward Piszek, creator of the Mrs. Paul’s Kitchens line of frozen seafood.
“We were allotted 20 minutes with Pope John Paul II for breakfast at Castle Gandolfo,” he recalled.
“We were talking away, and the 20 minutes stretched into 90 minutes,” he continued. “Think about it. The guy from Brooklyn Street spent 90 minutes with the Holy Father!”
Murray currently is working on a book he’s named “Life is An Audible.” On the gridiron, an audible normally is a substitute offensive, or occasionally defensive, play called at the line of scrimmage.
“Everything in life is an audible,” explains Murray. “This work will stress the power of sport for good, as well as the power of prayer, something you can’t put a limit on.”
He differs with people who pray, then grumble about God not responding to their plea. “God answers all prayers,” says Murray. “But sometimes instead of saying yes, God says no!”
He credits the late John Cardinal Krol for this fourth quarter observation made as the Eagles were losing to the Oakland Raiders in the sole Super Bowl appearance in the history of the Eagles franchise. The Raiders won 27-10. The game was played in 1981 in New Orleans.
A Trip in the Wayback Machine
Remember when Philadelphia cop cars were red and your grandfather called those police cruisers “the red devils?”
Remember when the local supermarket was Food Fair, and straphangers traveled into Center City by PTC to shop at Lit Brothers and Snellenburg’s?
Remember when at the Atlantic filling station attendants checked your oil and cleaned your windshield when you stopped by for gas?
Jimmy Murray remembers, and so do his pals Steve Ross and Jackie Strauss on the Remember When nostalgia talk radio show.
“Well, it’s not about what is, or what’s going to be, it’s all about what was,” explains Ross, the veteran Philadelphia DJ who founded the program. “Remember When is for those who enjoy gazing into life’s rear view mirror and admiring the reflection.”
They host the CBS Radio talk show on Saturday nights-Sunday mornings from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. on WPHT, 1210 on the AM dial.
Telephone callers trade vignettes with the trio and share observations from way back then. It’s a trip in the way-back machine. The only reference to the future is the weather forecast.
Murray and Ross are old pals who met while playing the ponies at Garden State Racetrack.
“Steve calls radio the theater of the mind. Upon introducing the concept, he asked me to co-host on the air for a couple of weeks,” explained Murray.
“I agreed to stay on for three weeks. Now eight years later, I’m still there.”
Granting Wishes, Enriching Young Lives
Jim Murray is well known as a doer of good deeds, so many in fact that he can’t keep track of all great and small kindnesses rendered.
When Irish Edition photographer Tom Keenan photographed Murray for his grand marshal profile, he thanked Murray for making it possible for two youngsters to attend an Eagles home game back when Americans were fighting in Iraq in 2004.
The youngsters, a 16-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister, were home with their mother while their father, Navy Seabee Dan Hazley, was serving in the Middle East. Both kids were Eagle fans.
Keenan and Hazley are old friends. Hazley via e-mail from Iraq asked Keenan if he knew anybody who could fulfill his children’s wishes.
Keenan didn’t know Murray personally, but telephoned him to make the request. The call ended with Murray telling him, “Consider it done.”
Murray arranged for a limo to transport mom and the kids to the next Eagles home game which they watched from the sidelines. The brother had his photograph made with then Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, and his sister was greeted by the cheerleaders.