When Margaret and I were dating, one of the things that appealed to me the most about her was her friends.  She has a small, tight group of girls that she has been close to since pre kindergarten days, and they all grew up on the same block.  I came to really like the girls she grew up with, and their families.  During our dating years, some of our trips took us over to the Murphy’s house, right around the block from town hall.

I always looked forward to any visit to the Murphy home, as it meant that Gene Murphy was there, puttering about, serving us food, grilling, making sure we were all comfortable.  But best of all, while he flipped burgers or poured drinks, Mr. Murphy was an endless fountain of knowledge, a brain that teemed over with all sorts of interest.  He was like a big balloon, filled with history and civil engineering and town infrastructure, and all you had to do was poke a hole in one side of the balloon, and “POP”- out came gushing Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Disaster, and how the New York City Water Tunnel Number 3 was currently drilling at roughly 300 feet below surface of Manhattan, and recent events at the Irish American Historical Society  on lower Fifth Avenue, and how the Milk and Sugar helped transform Bay Shore’s Main Street, and how the New York City grid layout so entirely changed the identity of the little island at the tip of the Hudson…  Over the course of time I came to learn that Gene Murphy was the head of zoning, in the town of Islip.  But beyond that, conversations with Gene revealed a position in life that few individuals ever receive- that of having a career perfectly matched to one’s gifting.

And as the years have gone by, in speaking to other people in the town, I came to hear of Gene’s achievements in the town of Islip.  It’s a far reaching job, encompassing a national airport, countless schools, baseball fields, railroad lines, civic centers- and thousands upon thousands of homes.  The one thing that stands about Gene is that he never speaks about himself, or his doings.  It was in speaking with other people that I came to understand the broad impact of his decades of hard work.

One of my favorite stories is the company car, allotted to Gene for use by the town of Islip.  Thing is, Gene lives just a five minute walk, probably a quarter mile from town hall.  And so Gene refused to use the car, but would walk every day.  And so, as I headed off to my art studio, I would always see Gene walking to his office.  It struck me as such a small but good thing to have somebody so civic minded, that they would refuse the creature comfort of a car for personal use.

Thousands of years ago, Aristotle used the word “zoon politicon” when describing human beings, which is to say “social animals.”  In order for this social animal to flourish, there needs to be “politikon bion” or a “public life” which enables the human being to realize their maximum potential in the sphere of a healthy public community.  Apart from this public sensibility, a self centered human being withdraws into unhealthy, self serving pursuits.  Thousands of years later, we read Aristotle’s words with a pang of worry- the pendulum has swung too far over to the importance of the individual, and we acknowledge need for civic minded individuals.

As the years have gone by, and as Margaret and I have gone from boyfriend and girlfriend, to husband and wife, to father and mother, we still pass the occasional pleasant evening beside the pool at Gene and Pat’s house.  And I always think, in leaving the Murphy home, that it is such a shame that all we ever hear of is the corruption of government on various levels, and why doesn’t somebody tell the story of decades of service and hard work by good men in the public sphere?  As Gene sat for his portrait in my studio, his eyes lit up when he described the new lampposts which will transform the upper main street of Islip Avenue.  “It will really benefit the business, the shop owners in this often overlooked strip, and I’m just hoping it will really benefit everyone in the area” Gene said, and my brush moved as rapidly as possible to capture the glow on his face.


Gene Murphy, day one progress

 Gene Murphy

Gene Murphy, finished painting


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