Vol 37 No 15
June 9, 2005
News & Notes
Out and About
June 30, 2005
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Oration honouring John J. Murphy
John Shakespeare, astute businessman, father of that young scapegrace, William, rose to municipal prominence to become the chief alderman and mayor of his home city. As mayor, he had onerous duties:
It was his job to report and punish residents of his city who were living immorally, to arrest employees who disobeyed their bosses, who hung around the town after sundown. Most importantly of all, he was responsible for dealing with scolding wives whose fate it was to be tied to a “cucking stool” and ducked in a stretch of water nearest the town.
John Murphy, the mayor we honour today, must be very glad that his duties have changed considerably since the days Sir Humphrey Gilbert hove up on these shores. We no longer require our mayors to admonish the morals or the tongues of our citizens. The crowded bars on George Street, where the sun never sets, wouldn’t be able to pay their taxes and our John would never allow Mary Walsh, who scolds all of Canada, to be ducked in the harbour. However, John does share with John and William Shakespeare some essential qualities needed to be a successful, municipal politician the energy and positive ambition to improve the place where you are born, and the dramatic insight that a public man plays many roles and parts on the stage of life. After all, it was William who best combined the art of acting and story-telling with business acumen to secure the best house in Stratford as well as the title and heraldic insignia of gentleman.
It should be no surprise, then, that today, on this best stage of all, we will accord to John Murphy, for his exemplary career in the theatre of municipal politics, and his outstanding contribution to public service and, at times, entertainment, not merely some heraldic insignia, but the dignity of the academic title of doctor of laws.
The quality of my metaphor is not strained. Kevin Major has called Newfoundland
politics the “entertaining sport of personalities,” and from John’s early
days as an announcer on VOCM, where he initiated an early version of the open-line
radio show, he has used his talented personality to engage the audience and
to play the game with dignity. Recently John credited his popularity and success
as a civic and, civil, politician to his dramatic skills.
My whole background is theatre
What do you think Council was?
John’s first role on stage was in a St. Bon’s production of It Will Be
All Right on the Night, a sentiment that got him through many a St. John’s
Council meeting. Ever the showman, John brought in television cameras to council
chambers and we all lined up to watch as his rambunctious company of players
tried to upstage him, where the outspoken, and the outrageous, assailed him
with “slings and arrows.” Through it all, John stood his ground, the high ground
of civility and grace, conscious that much of the real work of balancing budgets,
preserving our historic heritage, extending the tax boundaries, building the
infrastructure for oil and gas development, improving and incorporating local
neighbourhoods, renovating our parks, yes, and dealing courteously with the
crabby citizens who called him in the middle of the night to shovel out their
driveways, went on backstage, behind the scenes in the unglamorous, workaday
world of the civic politician.
Jan Morris visited this town when John Murphy was mayor. She wrote that St. John’s was one of the places I like best in the world.
This was no anodyne praise. The prospect of a visit from Jan Morris and the publication of her trenchant, sardonic reports have struck fear in the hearts of the mayors of London, Paris, New York, Sydney, San Francisco and Ottawa. Of course, the topography, history and uniqueness of St. John’s spoke for itself, but without the generosity and hospitality of its citizens, led by Mayor Murphy, we might have had a very bad review. Instead, St. John’s is the mecca for tourists looking for a distinctive, safe place of “varied inheritances and associations,” where the “Narrows is like a door upon a world far wider than Canada itself,” where its cosmopolitan nature gives it a “status beyond its size.”
Never a man to be typecast, nor to be falsely modest about his achievements, John has played major roles in a whole range of other organizations, serving as president of Halley and Company, president of the Board of Trade and Rotary and the Cancer Society, member of the Capital Commission Campaign, fund-raising Chairman for the Salvation Army, the St. John Ambulance, member of Memorial’s Board of Regents, who personally sponsored awards and presentations to the students of Burke House in Paton College.
How does he do it all? The list of his starring roles is endless, yet through
it all John is a model of commitment to bettering the lives of others. Never
content to sit idly in the audience, John and Sheilagh are tireless entertainers:
raising funds for charity, staging operatic concerts, hosting parties on Paddy’s
Day, opening their home to the people stranded by 9/11, performing in the play
Love Letters, even riding an elephant in the Shriner’s Parade.
John is the living testament of what the medics and geneticists tell us 60
is, indeed, the new 40. So, John, 80 is the new 60. And, Andy, you better watch
out in September. We have had Star Wars Episode III; we could have
John Murphy Episode V.
Where does he get his youthful appearance and energy? Sheilagh tells me it
is all due to daily doses of cod liver oil and liberal applications of the actor’s
standby Nivea Intensive Cream for Men. Indeed, there are plans to have John
and Sheilagh enrol in the Faculty of Arts Performance and Communications Media
Program, to mount a production of, you guessed it, The Remains of the Day,
with John playing Anthony Hopkins, his favourite actor, and Sheilagh, Emma Thompson.
No? She tells me that she’d rather play Bette Midler.
Perhaps Ray Guy knew the honourable tradition associated with the term Rags, when he coined the affectionate epithet Rags Murphy to denote John’s business involvement with that legendary St. John’s institution, the Arcade, the forerunner of Winners and Target. After all, the term Rags has an honourable tradition in the acting fraternity. Will Shakespeare’s fellow actors were known as Shakerags.
As John stands in his elegant, red rags even more elegant than the clothes
he wore when he first ran for public office, I direct him to shake his rags
when you give him top billing in this East End show and award him the degree
of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Dr. Annette Staveley
Deputy public orator