Posted on May 22, 2009

Prof. William M. Murphy

A memorial service for William M. Murphy, the Thomas Lamont Research Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature at Union College and a noted Yeats scholar, is set for Saturday, May 30 at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, 1221 Wendell Ave.

Prof. Murphy died Sept. 26, 2008. He was 92.

Murphy taught in Union’s English department from 1946 until his retirement in 1983. He began at Union as an assistant professor of English. He was named associate professor in 1948 and full professor in 1960, and he became the Thomas Lamont Professor in 1978. In 1983, he received the Faculty Meritorious Service Award from the Alumni Council.

He married the former Harriet Doane on Sept. 2, 1939. Survivors also include a son, Christopher; and daughters, Deborah Chase Murphy and Susan Doane Murphy Thompson.

Memorial contributions may be made to Schaffer Library at Union College.

Murphy was well-regarded internationally among Yeats scholars and researchers. In 1978, he published Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and was a National Book Award finalist. He later published a companion book, Family Secrets: William Butler Yeats and His Relatives, which The New York Times described as one of the finest biographies of the Yeats family.

Murphy had a lifelong passion for politics, and was a close friend of U.S. Rep. Samuel S. Stratton, himself a former Union philosophy professor. The Murphy and Stratton families have remained close. In 2007, the Congressman’s son, Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton, presented the Murphys with Patroon Awards, the highest honor bestowed by the city.

Murphy made unsuccessful runs for Congress in 1948, state Senate in 1956 and state Assembly in 1959. He was appointed in 1956 by the elder Stratton, then Schenectady mayor, to fill an unexpired term on the Schenectady County Board of Supervisors. He was a member and chairman of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, which, with Stratton, had instituted a policy of desegregation in the city’s public housing.

Murphy served on the New York State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He was part of the mayor’s “kitchen cabinet,” and later, a part-time staffer in the Congressman’s Schenectady and Washington offices.

Murphy was born Aug. 6, 1916 in Astoria, Queens, and raised in Flushing. He would go on to study at Harvard University, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees there. He taught for three years at Harvard, then served another three years as secretary of Harvard’s Committee on Educational Relations. He served in the U.S. Navy for three years, specializing in anti-submarine warfare, before he joined Union College.