'Crowning glory'

Alisha Morrissey
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Former mayor John Murphy granted Freedom of the City

John Murphy made a vow many years ago he would never live anywhere else but St. John's.

After keeping that promise for nearly 88 years, Murphy is being honoured for his lifelong love affair with his hometown.

Just about everything in the capital city has John Murphy's fingerprints on it, and tonight he'll be thanked for his contribution with the Freedom of the City.

Former St. John's mayor John Murphy sits in front of his home Wednesday. He will be awarded the Freedom of the City during a ceremony this evening. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

John Murphy made a vow many years ago he would never live anywhere else but St. John's.

After keeping that promise for nearly 88 years, Murphy is being honoured for his lifelong love affair with his hometown.

Just about everything in the capital city has John Murphy's fingerprints on it, and tonight he'll be thanked for his contribution with the Freedom of the City.

He and his wife, Sheilagh Guy-Murphy, live in the east-end St. John's home he built 40 years ago, with their massive golden retriever Ben.

From his yard he can see the Rennies Mill Trail and the river he says is so special because it runs right to the sea.

Guy-Murphy says her husband - who has been honoured with many awards including the Order of Canada - is touched and quite emotional about being honoured by the city he loves so dearly.

"I think this is the crowning glory ... coming from the city, coming from the people," she says. "This is the recognition of a lifetime."

The Freedom of the City is a rare honour given in cases of extraordinary service to the city.

She says you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't know Murphy, and although he's been praised by some of society's most influential people, he's also respected and well liked by the average citizen.

Murphy's memory is still sharp, and he hasn't lost his sense of humour, but Parkinson's has taken a toll on his body and he now walks with a cane or walker.

Murphy, a radio announcer for many years, took over the Arcade in the 1950s after his first wife's father died. He took what was a small downtown store and built it into a seven-location chain with more than 100 employees.

Robert Innes, the founding president of St. John's Board of Trade, competed with Murphy in business for years, and says Murphy was a brilliant businessman.

He was great at marketing himself and just as good at marketing the city, Innes said.

"He was first class. He was a friendly competitor, he was a good competitor and he was, what I would call, a solid citizen all his life," Innes says, describing in detail the chronology of Murphy's career.

Murphy says he loves that St. John's isn't a flat city, he loves the colourful row houses and the walking trails.

But the things he's most proud of from his days in the mayor's chair, were the neighbourhood improvement programs, which resulted in building of the city's sidewalks, gutters and generally creating the services that are taken for granted today.

Murphy was also a catalyst for the creation of social housing in the city.

"My biggest claim to fame is being lucky," he says shrugging off compliments from others about hard work.

Murphy was voted deputy mayor in 1973, but in the 1977 election was unsuccessful in his bid to seize the mayor's chair from Dorothy Wyatt.

But in 1981, Murphy took the big chair at City Hall.

In the next election he won by acclamation.

During that time Murphy had an excellent relationship with the federal government and managed to get a lot of funding from Ottawa for infrastructure projects like Pitts Memorial Drive.

He left politics in the early '90s when his first wife became ill, but returned to reclaim the mayor's chair in 1993.

He lost to Andy Wells in the next municipal election.

Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff, who served for nearly a decade on city council with Murphy, says he was always a gentleman.

"My memory of those days was that it was fun," she says, explaining that everyone seemed to know one another at City Hall and Murphy encouraged that with annual parties at his house, barbeques and family events.

She describes him as generous, never nasty and always respectful.

"You could easily disagree with him and he would not take offence to it," Duff says, explaining that she worked with him long before she ran for council through several volunteer posts, including the Newfoundland Historic Trust. "... If you came John with an idea, he was more of a 'why not' than a 'why' person."

The St. John's Days was one example, Duff says, of Murphy embracing city spirit and a coming together of people.

She says there were parades and contests and it was a big event. Duff even has a picture of them jiving at a downtown bar from those days.

amorrissey@thetelegram.com

Organizations: St. John's Board of Trade, Newfoundland Historic Trust

Geographic location: St. John's, Canada, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Political watcher
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Congratulations Mr. Murphy, you are a true gentleman and still the best Mayor St. John's ever had. Your love and passion for the City was evident at all times and because of this the city is a much better place today.
    Even when decorum at City Hall was at an all time low, you conducted yourself as a professional and did not let the surrounding environment drag you down; I can only imagine the strength and determination this must have taken.
    Enjoy this award and I do hope it is only the first of many in recognizing your contribution to making St. John's one of the best cities in Canada where which to live.

  • Mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Great to see Mr. Murphy reach a grand age of 88. Always a gentlemen . Congratulations on your award, very well deserved!!

  • ron and lillian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    congratulations mr. murphy well deserved long overdue.best wishes. ron.

  • Don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Congratulations to a gentleman and probably St John's best ambassador ever. Thank you for your contribution to our beautiful city-which thanks to you is even more beautiful now .

  • Surprised
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Congratulations John, this honour is well deserved and about time . You are a credit to this City, we all owe you a vote of Thanks for the wonderful work you did for this beautiful City. Without you, it might never have been as beautiful and successful as it is. Someone should record the history you have about the city because you are so knowledgeable. Well deserved award, well deserved.

  • Saucy Face
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    A class act, a gentleman and one who was never afraid to put aside his personal views on a project for the greater good of the city and its growth.... Too bad Shannie never learned anything from him.

  • Bibbie from NL
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Mr. Murphy, Congratulations, you are so well-deserving of this award. A finer gentleman one could not meet. I remember in the late 70's walking to work each morning downtown and I would meet you as you too were walking to work from your house on Smithville Cres. You were always very cordial and a real peoples person. May God Bless you.

  • john
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Looking good John. So very happy for you and Sheilagh. You are always the gentleman. And a fine photo as well - very distingushed and dapper.

  • Graham
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Congratulations Mr Murphy. well deserved and long over due.

  • Bernice
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Congratulations Mr.Murphy on your award. I always thought of you as a very fine gentleman and ambassador for our beautiful city of St.John's. May God Bless you..
    Bernice,Torbay,NL

  • Pat
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    great job Mr. Murphy, you're an inspiration to all!

  • Whaddaya At ?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    John Murphy always wore the Chain of Office with pride and was a class act. Andy Wells, on the other hand, was, agggrrrrhhhhhh, pass the barf bag !!!

  • Kent
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Congratulation to Mr. Murphy on his award. I always thought John Murphy was a fine ambassador for the City Of St. John's

  • Political watcher
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    Congratulations Mr. Murphy, you are a true gentleman and still the best Mayor St. John's ever had. Your love and passion for the City was evident at all times and because of this the city is a much better place today.
    Even when decorum at City Hall was at an all time low, you conducted yourself as a professional and did not let the surrounding environment drag you down; I can only imagine the strength and determination this must have taken.
    Enjoy this award and I do hope it is only the first of many in recognizing your contribution to making St. John's one of the best cities in Canada where which to live.

  • Mary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Great to see Mr. Murphy reach a grand age of 88. Always a gentlemen . Congratulations on your award, very well deserved!!

  • ron and lillian
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    congratulations mr. murphy well deserved long overdue.best wishes. ron.

  • Don
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    Congratulations to a gentleman and probably St John's best ambassador ever. Thank you for your contribution to our beautiful city-which thanks to you is even more beautiful now .

  • Surprised
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Congratulations John, this honour is well deserved and about time . You are a credit to this City, we all owe you a vote of Thanks for the wonderful work you did for this beautiful City. Without you, it might never have been as beautiful and successful as it is. Someone should record the history you have about the city because you are so knowledgeable. Well deserved award, well deserved.

  • Saucy Face
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    A class act, a gentleman and one who was never afraid to put aside his personal views on a project for the greater good of the city and its growth.... Too bad Shannie never learned anything from him.

  • Bibbie from NL
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Mr. Murphy, Congratulations, you are so well-deserving of this award. A finer gentleman one could not meet. I remember in the late 70's walking to work each morning downtown and I would meet you as you too were walking to work from your house on Smithville Cres. You were always very cordial and a real peoples person. May God Bless you.

  • john
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Looking good John. So very happy for you and Sheilagh. You are always the gentleman. And a fine photo as well - very distingushed and dapper.

  • Graham
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Congratulations Mr Murphy. well deserved and long over due.

  • Bernice
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Congratulations Mr.Murphy on your award. I always thought of you as a very fine gentleman and ambassador for our beautiful city of St.John's. May God Bless you..
    Bernice,Torbay,NL

  • Pat
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    great job Mr. Murphy, you're an inspiration to all!

  • Whaddaya At ?
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    John Murphy always wore the Chain of Office with pride and was a class act. Andy Wells, on the other hand, was, agggrrrrhhhhhh, pass the barf bag !!!

  • Kent
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Congratulation to Mr. Murphy on his award. I always thought John Murphy was a fine ambassador for the City Of St. John's