Friends fondly remember Murphy
By FINN PRESSLY
Senior Staff Writer
Leading a freshman retreat in the fall of 1999, Conor Murphy had three words of advice: Do a puzzle.
"During finals week, Conor was totally insistent that the best thing to do was a puzzle. He bought a 1000 piece and would spent hours in the hallways of Zahm doing puzzles," said fellow retreat team member Dory Mitros. "Here are all these freshmen going into their first round of exams, and there's is Conor saying `do a puzzle.' He was a complete riot."
Active in Campus Ministry and vice-president of the College Democrats, Murphy brought his unique, enduring style to all he did.
"He was a really fun-loving guy with a really strong faith. You can't meet Conor and not remember him," said close friend Meghan Cooney.
What many will remember most about Murphy is his love of conversation.
"He had the most remarkable presence. I've never worked with anyone who was so captivating to his audience, and who immediately felt such a connection to everyone he was talking to," she said. "I think it was something that God physically gave Conor to look at a person and say this is what you need right now and I'm going to be the one to give it to you."
Senior Liam Brennan, who, as co-president of the College Democrats, worked extensively with Murphy, recalled an incident that occurred while he was studying in the library.
"He came up to my carrel and started talking, and we talked for like an hour and a half. People at the library got so annoyed. My roommate Matt just got up and walked up away. For days, people would say `Who was that kid you were talking to for an hour and a half?'" he said. "Rarely have I met anyone that I loved talking to as much as him. He could really talk."
His gift for conversation complemented an idiosyncratic style that endeared him to many of those he met.
"He never went a day without argyle socks," said Mitros. "He was always dressed to the nines. There were days he wouldn't have the laundry done, so he'd wear his Doc Martens without socks because he didn't have any argyle socks. If he didn't have argyle socks, he didn't wear socks."
"I definitely think I wear argyle socks more since I've been friends with him," Brennan said. "He was older than his years — he definitely dressed older. I can still see him walking on the quad with his Oxford shirt tucked into his khakis — I don't think the kid owned a pair of jeans. I don't even think he owned sneakers."
Even his car reflected his own brand of humor, Mitros said.
"He drove a station wagon, and he loved it. It was the old kind that moms drove, with the wood on the side," she said. "He was the king of the stationwagon. He was just the funniest person I know."
As a retreat leader, Mitros said Murphy went to whatever lengths necessary to make the experience as positive as possible.
"On the retreat, there was a skit where he and I were supposed to act out a dorm party, so he imitated the music of dorm party and was sitting there rapping so people could dance … and he was totally tone deaf," she said. "He had no problem making an ass of himself, and he would make an ass of himself if he thought that's what it required for you to have a good experience."
Murphy also took his academics seriously, Brennan said.
"Conor made you want to read more. Being friends with him made you want to be smarter. He was always clipping articles and mailing them to me. I was always flattered because he thought I knew as much as he did, and I didn't," he said.
Brennan remembers one clipping in particular — a speech from then presidential candidate Bill Bradley that concluded with, "Don't give in. Do not settle."
"It's kind of emblematic of Conor. Don't settle," he said. "You never want to settle. He had a great fighting spirit. Fighting for what he believed in — holding his ground."
Friends remember fondly the ways that this spirit showed itself in his personality.
"He could be obstinate, he could be stubborn — he could be a pain in the ass," Brennan said. "But even in that, he was such a pleasure to be around."
Mitros expressed similar sentiments.
"The first word that comes to mind when I think about Conor is ornery. He was ornery as hell. He was such a troublemaker. He was the most fun, most troublesome person … and at the same time, there was this person who had this incredibly peaceful presence about him," Mitros said. "It was completely balanced by this incredibly involved and bright student who had a definite future in politics."
According to former roommate Wes Jacobs, Murphy took a special interest in the Irish-American Experience, a class that addresses the story of Irish emigration to America.
"In Friday discussion, Conor basically led the discussion, since I think he knew more than our TA. Conor was the epitome of the phrase, `Irish American,'" he said.
His passion for Ireland took him to Belfast in the summer of 1999 as an intern with the Social Democratic Labor Party (SDLP).
The message of the SDLP, according to Brennan, had great resonance in Murphy's own mission.
"He really liked the SDLP, and he was always the Nationalist in spirit, but he felt that the SDLP was the only party there that made any sense," Brennan said. "They tried to make do with what they had, and wanted to make the best of the situation. They wanted to get stuff done."
Before coming to Notre Dame, Murphy also volunteered building houses in the Dominican Republic.
"He talked [in retreats] about how that experience of poverty and service and changed his life," Mitros said.
"At St. Ignatius High School [Murphy's alma mater], their motto is being a man unto others, and Conor was man for others," Brennan said. "He did as much for others as he could."
Murphy also carried with him a strong faith that affected many of those around him.
"He talked about his faith like nobody's business. He talked about trust and the will of God all the time. He talked about having this sense of trust and understanding everything in the context of your faith and everything will be fine," said Mitros. "That's not something that came with his illness. It was his guiding principle before that."
His faith also gives solace to those left behind.
"The beauty of the situation when you have a strong faith is that Conor's true happiness has only just begun," said Cooney.
His death this week leaves an enduring legacy that stretches from Cleveland to Notre Dame, from the Dominican Republic to Northern Ireland, and like a puzzle missing a piece, none will ever be quite the same.
"He completely changed my life, just from everything he endured and everything we experienced," said Cooney. "It's going to be a hard life without him."
All News Stories for Tuesday, February 6, 2001