Jim Murphy died on June 29th. He was a big part of WRFI’s growth starting a decade ago. For many years he hosted the Ithaca-Watkins Glen Morning Show every weekday from 7-8 AM. It’s through Jim that many people got involved with the station.
I’m one of those people. Jim’s generosity and encouragement were an essential part of my becoming a public radio reporter. And I’m glad to be back at WRFI, now as the news director.
I spoke with some people who knew Jim. Beginning with Eric Clay, the host of Made of Clay on WRFI.
"Because he really believes in radio, but he also, he gave himself. But he also had this kind of disregard for some of the broadcast rules…that he wanted, because he just did what he needed to do. And I love that about Jim/ I also find that so many people these days don't have a sense of personal agency so they can kind of be willing to withstand the conflict that they may generate, or the opportunities, they may open by what they're willing to do. He had what I would call a rural American sense of personal agency, that when you saw something, you did something about it, you didn't worry about getting permission, you didn't worry about what it looked like, you didn't worry about doing anything other than finding the people the resources or whatever you needed to do to have an impact on it. And you didn't need an organization to do it. But if you had one that was better. And so Jim didn't always color within the lines.
"But that's because he wasn't a creature of society, he was a creature of community. And because he was a creature of community, he was perfect for community radio, even when community radio has to abide by some of the rules of the FCC. And then some of the some of the rules that we decide as a local station. At the same time, we have to have the ability to respectfully violate them."
Jim was changing people’s life paths long before he came to Ithaca. Robert Flores was a student at a last-chance alternative school in New York City where Jim was a teacher. At the Celebration of Jim’s life this past weekend he was described as a force of nature. Flores says he felt that as a teenager.
"He's outside of the building waiting for you. So when you get to school, he's already there. He's standing out there Good morning. Whatever, everybody knows, Jim was known for his hug, he'll put his arm around you always like he always did that. Because, you know, he was towering. He was huge. He was big."
You know, people like Jim, when I needed them the most when I didn't love myself, I didn't respect myself, when I didn't think that there was more to life. They show me love and they were there, present. So now, I've always felt like I'm that vehicle now. Like, I'm present. I'm there. I'm an ear, I'm always helping. And I'm also like, always connecting, like at my school, I'm the Community Support Specialist. So I support families from, everything, immigration to housing, they need clothing, they need food, if they need a job, everything I do everything from A to Z."
Jim was a Vietnam vet and he became an advocate for other veterans and an anti-war activist. His connection to veterans extended to the next generation. Nate Lewis is a writer and part of the group, Warrior Writes in Tompkins County. He and Jim became friends as part of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"The younger [Vietnam vet] generation, the younger veterans, they were our mentors. They were the wise uncles. So they were walking with us home and giving us guidance and giving us hugs, as soon as we got back.
I came home as [part of] the first wave of people coming home [from Iraq] and getting out of the military, back in 2004. And there they were in olive drab green and there are boonie hats with their pins. And you know, they connected what I just went through with what they went through and they laid out a good path of what to do, how to come home, how to live your life, how to not dwell on it, but still use our experience in a good way.
He personally mentored me quite a bit and showed me show me how to how to live a good life."
Lewis introduced another Iraq vet, Kevin Basl to Jim. Jim was a catalyst He’d get people together and then step away, leaving others to lead or take control. So, pretty quickly, Basl not Jim was the writing group’s facilitator.
"He was more concerned about getting veterans into the same room and talking. So if writing was going to be, the tool to do that, then so be it. You know, he would have used anything, I think to organize, to get veterans to come together and you know, to not just sit at home with their thoughts, you know, isolating. He was trying to get veterans out in the community. Helping them you know, get on their feet if they needed that. If they were 'on the edge', as he would say."
Whether it was with Flores, Lewis, or even me, Jim had a way of providing support at just the right time. It was the same for Basl. His recently published book is dedicated to Jim.
"You know, he was a big part of encouraging me to, keep going, to keep writing. It's weird, my path as a writer, as an artist. Just when I'm thinking about quitting when I'm ready to, you know, throw in the towel, something comes along to give me that little boost that I need to just, you know, take it a little further to keep going and Jim was like, definitely. He was definitely one of those people who gave me the boost to keep going. So, you know, I thank him in the book.
It's, you know, it's really, really incredible that I had six, seven years to get to know Jim."
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