I suspect a fair number of Inkshedders will remember Don -- who never
got to an Inkshed conference, but who was awfully influential with
many who did.
Columnist Donald Murray dies at 82
Pulitzer winner penned Globe's 'Now and Then'
By Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff | December 31, 2006
Five days ago, in his last "Now and Then" column published in the
Globe before he died, Donald Murray was as in love with writing as he
had been as a teenager -- and just as anxious.
"Each time I sit down to write I don't know if I can do it," he wrote.
"The flow of writing is always a surprise and a challenge. Click the
computer on and I am 17 again, wanting to write and not knowing if I
He could, and did, for decades -- winning a Pulitzer Prize at 29 for
editorials he wrote for the Boston Herald, teaching writing at the
University of New Hampshire, publishing book after book, penning
column after column.
"He basically lived through his writing," said his daughter Anne. "In
some ways that was more real to him than his real life. Everything had
to be sifted through his writing -- the good and bad. His whole life
Mr. Murray, who lived in Durham, N.H., was visiting a friend in
Beverly yesterday when he died, apparently of heart failure. At 82, he
was about to launch a website where aspiring writers could apprentice
with the aging master, extending his career from the days of
typewriter carbon copies to cyberspace.
For two decades, Mr. Murray wrote the Globe's "Over 60" column, which
was renamed "Now and Then" in 2001. Ostensibly aimed at the retired
and the elderly, the column drew in readers of all ages.
"You would think that his column would appeal almost exclusively to
older readers, but I know so many younger readers who follow Don
Murray and have to know what happened," said Steve Greenlee, Living
editor at the Globe and formerly Mr. Murray's editor.
Effortlessly turning the personal, the private, and sometimes the
painful parts of his life into universal experiences, Mr. Murray
crafted columns in which the passing of his years became a narrative
embraced by legions of loyal readers.
As his beloved wife, Minnie Mae, declined slowly from Parkinson's
disease, readers were with him as he savored their remaining years.
Silently watching from the vantage of newsprint, they sat with Mr.
Murray beside her bed in their home and later in the assisted living
facility where she died in February 2005.
When he reflected on the changes wrought in his life after he suffered
a heart attack in the mid-1980s, readers trembled at his fears and
basked in his triumphs -- one of which was simply living to write
again, and again.
"I have achieved another generation," he wrote in March 2001 when his
column's name changed. "I am no longer young-old, but at 76, old and
looking forward to graduating to ancient in another 15 years. I had
always thought the title of the column would be 'Over 60' until it
could become 'Over 100,' but my editors suggest that I am so much over
60 that we should rename it.
"It will be called 'Now and Then' (Minnie Mae's idea) and will allow
me not only to report on the interior landscape of one who continues
to ripen but also to comment on the external life with the perspective
of an elder."
Donald Morrison Murray was born in Boston and grew up in Quincy. He
had no siblings and, characteristically frank, described his childhood
"My parents and teachers got together and decided I was stupid," he
wrote last year. "My response was to develop a private mantra: 'I'm
stupid but I can come in early and stay late.' Surprise. It worked.
Good work habits will beat talent every time."
Mr. Murray was a paratrooper during World War II and married Ellen
Pinkham in 1946. Their marriage ended in divorce and he graduated from
the University of New Hampshire in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in
English. He went to work as a copyboy at the Herald and became a staff
reporter in 1949.
Two years later he turned to editorial writing and married Minnie Mae
Emmerich, who "was five years older than I was, an embarrassment her
mother never accepted," he wrote this year.
Mr. Murray was awarded a Pulitzer in 1954 for editorials "on the 'New
Look' in National Defense which won wide attention for their analysis
of changes in American military policy," according to the Pulitzer
Turning down an offer to become an editor, Mr. Murray continued to
write and started teaching college writing courses, then moved to New
York City, where he worked briefly for Time magazine. He became a
freelance writer in 1956, a tenuous existence for someone supporting a
family. He began publishing books and joined the University of New
Hampshire faculty in 1963, becoming professor emeritus in 1984.
The university awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1990. Earlier, in
1981, he won the Yankee Quill Award, awarded by the New England
Society of Newspaper Editors and the New England Chapter of the
Society of Professional Journalists.
As a writing coach, Mr. Murray was revered as he brought his
plainspoken message to classrooms and newsrooms.
"What Don did was take the mystique and myth out of writing for so
many in newsrooms and elsewhere who thought you just had to wait for
inspiration to come," said Chip Scanlan, who teaches writing at the
Poynter Institute and was working for The Providence Journal when he
met Mr. Murray. "He did this with a simple but powerful message: Good
writing may be magical, but it's not magic. It's a process, a rational
series of steps and decisions that all writers take."
"He said those words and they galvanized me," Scanlan said. "I think I
know what it's like to be an apostle, because I've been quoting and
teaching Don Murray ever since that day."
For Mr. Murray, each column, each sentence presented an opportunity to
teach, and writing was never the only lesson. One of his many books,
"The Lively Shadow," was about his middle daughter, Lee, who died at
"We don't get over the death of those we love," he wrote in a 1999
column. "Don't tell those who have suffered such a loss to get over
it. Think how terrible it would be if we could forget."
In addition to his daughter Anne, who lives in Weymouth, Mr. Murray
leaves another daughter, Hannah Starobin of Mount Kisco, N.Y.; two
grandsons; and a granddaughter.
A funeral service will be announced.
Department of English
St. Thomas University
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