Much will be said in public forums about Jerry?s influence on the State of South Dakota, his friendship and counsel to Republicans and Democrats from local elected officials, legislators, and Governors. Maybe some will talk about issues of disagreement with Jerry and his life’s work. But, what will be most significant and common will be private conversations among those who knew him intimately, professionally, or casually of a kind and thoughtful man who loved his Lord, family, friends, and country.
If I may, I?d like to share some personal stories as they are representative of what is being said about Jerry all around our state as people contemplate his life and death.
The first real conversation I had with Jerry was in Washington, D.C. when I was working for Senator Abdnor. Somehow I had learned he always stayed at a particular hotel and tried to have a room on the side that looked toward the White House. I asked why and I?ll never forget what he said, ?Before I go to bed, I look at the White House and it reminds me of how blessed we are to live in this great country.?
This morning I ran into a mother who told me of Jerry asking her daughter what she did and Ivy told him she is a new teacher. Jerry said to her, ?Thank God for you. We need good teachers.?
Yesterday, when I told my wife and daughter Jerry had died, McKenzie, who had met him as a page, said, ?I love him. He used to talk to me all the time in Pierre.? In a place where pages can be made to feel insignificant or invisible, Jerry made McKenzie feel important.
Fifteen years ago, I saw Jerry at the movie with his wife, Mary Jean. I had only experienced him as this important man but I saw two people in love on a date.
About twelve years ago around the time my dad died, Jerry came up to me and talked about his alcoholism (which killed my dad) and, in a most intimate and confessional tone said, ?my boys are sons of an alcoholic, too.? But these anecdotes are only a glimpse of his depth.
Shortly after Sydney died, one evening the home phone rang (in this day and age of cell phones, nobody calls our home phone anymore). It was Jerry. I knew Jerry on a professional level and would never assume to think he considered me a friend. Besides extending condolences, he told a story of him remembering Sydney’s smile and happy demeanor four years earlier as a page. Before the call ended, alluding to the reality alcoholism runs in families without saying anything about my dad, he said during stressful times one might look for solace in the wrong place and mentioned true consolation can only be found in Christ and faith. It was like he was being a ?preventative? AA sponsor.
Over the past year, when I have trouble sleeping, I go to the 6:45 a.m. daily Mass at Cathedral and often I?d see Jerry there. He never said anything to me but if our eyes met he?d give me a look of love and concern. It was as if he knew nothing he could say could match the consolation I had just received from Christ. He just let me endure my tears privately.
This December after one Mass, our cars were parked next to each other and it was impossible not to talk. So as he got in his car he just said, ?You are being a good father.? One of the most difficult things to come to grips with when you lose a child is accepting one?s role as father is forever changed. How does one father a child who now has perfect Happiness, Knowledge, and Love? To this day, it is one of the most treasured things anyone has said to me since Sydney died.
Even today, I don?t know what he meant. Was I being a good father because I was in church praying for my daughter? Or was I where Sydney wanted me to be during my grief? But, it really doesn?t matter. His comment resonated so deeply in my heart, I know it wasn?t from a man named Jerry but from either Christ Himself through a man who allowed himself to be an instrument of Christ or a rose petal from Sydney.
My last conversation with Jerry was a couple of weeks ago at a funeral when Jerry singled me out at the reception filled with hundreds of people and asked how I was doing. I said fine and he called ?bull shit.? He knew I wasn’t “fine”. One?s heart doesn?t heal from the loss of a child. After I left Jerry, my heart told me his time was near. In the context of the conversation talking about Sydney and my grief, he talked about his full life, his exercise regimen (still doing sprints), his alcoholism, among other things. Jeremiah Murphy was clearly a man reconciled to his God.
While one might have thought the conversation was about Jerry but it wasn?t. Jerry?s real point was Sydney?s life had been just as significant in God?s eyes as his. Coming from a man who had lived as long and accomplished as much as Jerry, if he had said it insincerely, his words wouldn’t have been believable. My last conversation with Jerry was him helping me believe Sydney?s 21 year life was as full and meaningful as the great Jeremiah Murphy. And, this my friends is the deepest tribute I can give to Jerry. Two of the most comforting things said to me during the worst year of my life came from Jerry.
Jerry leaves a wife, sons, daughter, and grandchildren grieving for the loss in their life. My prayers are with them as they continue their walk without their beloved husband, father, and grandfather. While my heart aches for them, I find some solace in Jerry has a new dwelling place and halls to roam. St. Therese of Lisieux said on her deathbed she was excited to be in Heaven for she can do so much more good from Heaven for people here on Earth. It is unfathomable what this great man will do for his family, friends, and our state from Heaven. I thank God for Jeremiah Murphy.
Jerry, please give Sydney a hug from me. I love her, miss her and am so very proud of her.
Eternal rest grant unto Jeremiah Murphy, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Jerry rest in peace. Amen.