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The People Behind the Awards: James N. Murphy

A look at some of MIT's most influential figures and the Institute awards that honor them
James N. Murphy
James N. Murphy
Photo: MIT Museum
Professor Phil Clay presents the 2010 James N. Murphy Award to Priscilla Cobb, Senior Administrative Assistant in the MIT Music and Theater Arts Office.
Professor Phil Clay presents the 2010 James N. Murphy Award to Priscilla Cobb, Senior Administrative Assistant in the MIT Music and Theater Arts Office.

The MIT Awards Convocation honors students, faculty, staff and community members who have made outstanding contributions to the shared life of the Institute. The 30 awards given at the convocation are named for some of MIT's most influential figures. In honor of MIT's 150th anniversary, "The People Behind the Awards" series showcases an award's namesake.

During its 150-year history, MIT has been home to faculty, graduates and students whose accomplishments merit world recognition. To stroll through the MIT 150 exhibition at the MIT museum is to stroll through displays about famous firsts, Nobel Prize winners and household names.

But there are also many people who work at MIT who may never see their names on a national award or in a museum, but who have helped to define the Institute, and whose contributions have endeared them to the MIT community. The James N. Murphy Award honors these non-faculty employees whose spirit and loyalty exemplify inspired and dedicated service, especially with regard to students.

During the 37 years he worked at MIT, James N. Murphy represented the highest standard of service and devotion to the Institute. Indeed, Murphy had a lifelong relationship with MIT: while attending a Cambridge public high school, he worked at MIT part-time as a messenger boy. Murphy later came to work at the Institute full-time. As the first manager of Kresge Auditorium and the MIT Chapel, he helped develop the policies that make these historic buildings invaluable community facilities.

Murphy also took on the added responsibility of managing the MIT Religious Counselors' House and the Non-Resident Student Association House. Through all of these roles, he came to be known, respected and relied upon by many people for his tireless attention to detail and patience in dealing with complex problems.

At the 1962 MIT Awards Convocation, Murphy was given a surprise honor by President Julius Stratton––a silver tray and a check from his many MIT friends. President Stratton told Murphy, "There is hardly anyone at MIT who has not been the beneficiary of your generous spirit." In 1966, Mr. Murphy and three MIT students died tragically in an automobile accident while traveling to a national convention of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, for which Murphy was the faculty advisor. One year later, students established an award––The James N. Murphy Award––in memory of the warmth and understanding that made Murphy one of the most beloved staff members.

To learn more about the Awards Convocation, and to nominate a staff member for the James N. Murphy Award, go to the MIT Awards Convocation website. Nominations for the MIT Awards Convocation, including the James N. Murphy Award, are being accepted through Friday, March 25. The 2011 MIT Awards Convocation is Tuesday, May 3, at 4 p.m. in 10-250.

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