Saturday, November 26, 2022

Thomas Gerard Murphy, 87, of New York

Thomas G. Murphy (Courtesy of Nelsen Funeral Home)

WILLIAMSBURG — Thomas G. Murphy started out in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, an Irish and Scottish kid in an immigrant neighborhood. His father worked for the subway system and his mother in a hotel. Both were proud members of their unions. He felt a religious calling and joined the Marist Brothers becoming Brother Patrick Martin. During the next 16 years, he helped build Marist College, got his undergraduate degree there, worked with migrant farmworkers in the apple orchards, taught at Marist High School where he coached football and debate, and finally taught philosophy courses at Marist College. He played the guitar and sang. He was friendly with everyone he met and enjoyed his life as a brother.

Eventually, he joined the many other people in religious life who left their orders. He moved on to another masters degree, this time in psychology at Hunter College. It was there that he met Agnes Porcelli, a student with a similar background. They got married in 1971. His big Irish and Scottish family joined her big Italian family. They raised two daughters, Rose and Helen, in Jackson Heights.

Education and religion were Tom’s guiding lights. He had a long career as a career counselor at Hunter College, where he was also a union steward. He taught psychology classes and helped students find their own path, even long after he retired. When Rose was in high school he was a parent judge for the debate team, going to countless tournaments, and providing support to the coaches. In more recent years, he studied the origins of the universe, trying to meld his understanding of science with the ways various religions explain how the world began. He shared his love of astronomy with his daughters, pointing out stars, planets, comets, and eclipses when a clear night away from the lights of the city presented itself. His love of education extended to supporting Agnes through a masters degree and a reading certification program, as well as undergraduate and advanced degrees for both daughters.

After he retired, Tom earned his degree in theology at Union Theological. He volunteered as a crisis chaplain with the Red Cross and held a regular position as a lay chaplain at Elmhurst Hospital. After 9/11, he volunteered as a chaplain to the firefighters who were excavating the Twin Towers. In that position, he listened and offered solace. It was difficult work, but he relied on his years as a counselor and his love of people.

Throughout his life, Tom engaged in spiritual exploration, learning about philosophy, ethics, church history, biblical analysis and ancient languages. He made his faith the center of his relationship with the world around him. He volunteered at his church, St. Joan of Arc, teaching confirmation classes for young people and singing in the choir. He participated in an ecumenical discernment process to support a friend in becoming a deacon of the Episcopal Church. He helped out at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights. The older he got, the more he showed kindness, and the more he wished to help other people in whatever ways he could. He spent afternoons at a coffee shop talking to everyone and helping where he could. Sometimes it was advice or a joke or a sympathetic ear. Other times it was logistical help for a person in need.

While he was a New Yorker through and through, Tom loved to travel with Agnes. They had a two-month European adventure in the 1970s, where he surprised Agnes with his amazing sense of direction in each new city they visited. When the girls were little, they spent several summers camping up and down the East Coast, from Florida to Prince Edward Island, and culminating with a cross-country camping trip in 1988 with their cat Pitou in tow. When Tom and Agnes retired, they began to travel again, going on trips around the globe, sometimes taking their daughters. Tom loved to meet different people, see historical sites and natural wonders, and be with his family.

Tom was a family man at heart. His parents, Elizabeth and Richard, came from neighboring towns in Scotland, and he visited their brothers and sisters and his many cousins many times. He loved to catch up with the ones he was close to and join a family gathering arranged for him to see all the cousins, young and old, and to introduce them to Agnes, Rose, & Helen. He also took his family to visit his cousins living near Toronto, Canada. He was thrilled when any of his relatives came to New York.

In a long life there are many heartbreaks. For Tom, these were the untimely deaths of his sister Elizabeth, his brother-in-law James, and three of his nephews, Richard, James, and Thomas. He loved his parents and his sister’s family deeply. One of his great joys was walking his niece Elizabeth down the aisle at her wedding.

Tom loved being around people. He loved an audience for his many entertaining stories as well as for his singing. He loved holiday gatherings with the extended family, sharing gossip and good food. He loved parties, especially with the other former Marist Brothers who had kids the same age as his own. He loved to debate politics, philosophy and ethics. He loved to dance, especially with Agnes, and later with his daughters. When he was having fun, he was unself-conscious, and knew how to let loose.

For most of his life, Tom was a brilliant man. The hard part for his family was watching him slowly lose his intellect to Alzheimer’s Disease. Despite the years of slow decline, he maintained a sense of humor, a desire to connect with people, and an inclination to cooperate whenever possible. He never stopped loving a good party, a long phone call with a cousin or friend, or a holiday meal, the more people the better, visiting him in Virginia where he moved to be close to his grandchildren.

Tom is survived by his wife Agnes, his daughters Rose and Helen, his sons-in-law Joe and Maurits, his grandchildren Thomas and Rose, and his nieces, nephews, grand- nieces, and grand-nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Marist Brothers for the care of the elderly brothers, https://webapps.it.marist.edu/brothers/.

There will be a viewing, funeral mass, and meal at St. Bede’s Church in Williamsburg, VA on Wednesday April 27, 2022 at 12:30pm.

There will be a memorial and committal service at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY, followed by a meal on Friday April 29, 2022 at 11:00am.

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