In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus John G. “Jack” Murphy Jr. (LL.B.’61)

May 31, 2018

Professor Emeritus John G. "Jack" Murphy Jr. (LL.B.'61), who joined the Georgetown Law faculty in 1965 and taught courses ranging from Commercial Law to Federal Election Law, died May 26. He was 80.

Jack Murphy Headshot

“Jack was a highly-sought-after teacher, active scholar, and a beloved member of our community,” said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor, noting that Murphy was a “major force in governance” of the entire Georgetown University as well as the Law Center.

“He served as vice president of the Faculty Senate and was a long-time chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, authoring many of the rules and policies governing our faculty today…Jack was also a committed public servant,” Treanor said. “One of his brightest achievements was helping design the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Legal Services Program, providing free legal counsel to the poor. This served as the foundation for today’s Legal Services Corporation, the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation.”

Murphy earned his A.B. from Harvard in 1958 and a law degree from Georgetown Law in 1961. Before returning to the Law Center to teach, he clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, practiced at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., and served as conference director for Health, Education and Welfare and Office of Economic Opportunity programs for the delivery of legal services to low-income individuals. Later, Murphy served as general counsel to the Federal Election Commission, created to oversee campaign finance reforms in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

As an educator, Murphy taught courses in Individual Rights, the Supreme Court, the Federal System, Commercial Law, Federal Election Law, Professional Responsibility, Corporations, and Criminal Law.

“Jack’s courses have forbidding titles – commercial law, secured transactions, payment systems, negotiable instruments,” Professor Stephen Cohen once wrote of Murphy. “These are regarded as highly technical, soporific, impenetrable subjects, approached by law students with the same enthusiasm that premeds reserve for organic chemistry. Yet students consistently rate Jack’s classes as ‘the very best in law school.'”

From 1982 to 1986, Murphy served Georgetown Law as associate dean for the Graduate Program.

“Jack has been there for faculty, staff and students for every turn,” Professor Wally Mlyniec (L’70) noted at the time of Murphy’s retirement in 2008. “He was there in ’73 when the first foundations of three-campus budgeting were set; he was there in ’66 when the first public interest programs emerged at the Law Center; he organized the first federal conferences on legal services to low-income citizens; he was there when the Prettyman program began its civil division and was there when the first clinics were born. Jack was there in 1968 organizing legal teams during the insurrection after Martin Luther King was murdered…[he] was there in 1970 after the Cambodia incursions, when the students and the faculty announced that business as usual could not continue at the Law Center.”


Murphy also championed Georgetown Law in University governance, serving as vice president of the Faculty Senate and chairman of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility for more than two decades. He fought for Law Center tenure slots, served on University and Law Center tenure committees and the appointments committee.

In his work as a lawyer and scholar, he traveled widely, serving as a Ford Foundation Project Specialist in Beirut, Lebanon, from 1970 to 1972, and as visiting professor at a number of foreign law schools including the University of Guadalajara in Mexico (1991), at Palackeho University in Czechoslovakia (1992), and at Xiamen University, Xiamen, Peoples Republic of China (1999).

“Jack was always dedicated to the Law Center’s academic mission and his endeavors were driven by his sense of learning,” Mlyniec wrote in 2008. “William Butler Yeats once told us that ‘education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’ Jack has lit a fire for all who have known him, a fire that will illuminate our future, a fire that will burn brightly for Georgetown Law long after all of us have joined him in sweet reverie.”

Murphy is survived by his wife Lucinda and their family.

In Remembrance

I have lost a very good friend. For those of you who did not know him well, or his immense contributions to the Law Center, I want to share the remarks I made at Jack’s retirement.

There is a certain fear that anyone should have when asked to speak about Jack Murphy. It is a fear that one’s words will be compared to those that Jack might give under similar circumstances and be found woefully lacking. T.E. Kalem once said about Brendan Behan that the English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man's fate and man's follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth. Jack Murphy’s wonderful tones and images with the English language have entertained us and enlightened us for years. I cannot imagine whose voice and whose ideas will carry us forward.

Of course the words were always well chosen and beautiful, but the ideas behind them have been a driving force for the Law Center we know today. From the beginning, Jack’s was the voice of progressivism and voice of courage and steadfastness in our drive to determine our own fate unhobbled by men of lesser vision.

Jack has been there for faculty, staff and students at every turn. He has been there for our country. He was there in 1973 when the first foundations of 3 campus budgeting were set; he was there in 1966 when the first public interest programs emerged at the Law Center; he organized the first federal conferences on legal services to low income citizens; he was there when the Prettyman program began its civil division and was there when the first clinics were born. Jack was there in 1968 organizing legal teams during the insurrection after Martin Luther King was murdered. These efforts helped contain the anger that so many of our citizens were feeling. Jack was there in 1970 after the Cambodia incursions, when the students and the faculty alike announced that business as usual could not continue at the Law Center. Jack was the first general counsel of the Federal Elections Commission.

Jack was there in 1973 when the main campus tried to limit the number of tenure slots the Law Center could have; he was there on the appointments committee to hire you, he was there on the tenure committee to help you achieve your goals; and then was there on the University Senate Tenure Committee to make sure our tenure decisions were upheld. He later served as president of the University Senate to protect our interests. Jack was there for the inter-campus budget battles of 1993; he was there when Judy and Jack Di Gioia were inexplicably removed from their positions. (I might add that Judy and Jack are still here but the perpetrators are not).

All of this was accomplished with intelligence, wit, and charm. Roy Shotland once wrote that he marveled at the truly flawless deftness of Jack’s presentations in his debates with the president. Jack enlivened our lives in so many ways, faculty meetings were always more interesting when he spoke; our social events happier and livelier because of his presence. Indeed, all of our wives would rather dance with him than with us.

But most of all, Jack was always dedicated to the Law Center’s academic mission and all his endeavors were driven by his sense of learning. William Butler Yates once told us that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Jack has lit a fire for all who have known him, a fire that will illuminate our future, a fire that will burn brightly for Georgetown Law long after all of us have joined him in sweet reverie.

— Wally Mlyniec, Professor

Dear Colleagues,

Those of you who knew Jack will appreciate all that he did, and those of you who are newer to the Law Center should know that you inherit a culture that he helped shape in profound ways and that we are all responsible for nurturing.

Jack was in that cohort of faculty a few decades ago who helped establish the strong independence of the Law Center while remaining in the University family. Courageous is not too strong a word to describe the stand that they took with respect to issues such as budget, hiring, and tenure policy, all of which paved the way for our rise into the ranks of elite schools. Jack worked tirelessly for the best interest of the school, doing demanding service as a representive to the University. He did so with an unmatched combination of urbanity, polish and humor. Jack always saw the bigger picture, and his own interests as subordinate to, but mainly aligned with, those of the Law Center.

Though we may be unaware of it, we all stand on a foundation that Jack was instrumental in building and which many of us now take for granted. You should take the time to review the history of the school that Dan Ernst put together awhile back so that you can fully appreciate how much we have benefited from our own Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams. This is our own modern creation myth, except that much of it is fact rather than fantasy.

We have become larger and less personally connected in recent years, with increasing demands on our time from the explosion of electronic forms of communication other relentless sirens. This creates challenges in sustaining what has been a remarkably collegial culture with a sense of common purpose. For me, Jack is not only a powerful reminder of our past, but a model of what we can be, both as individuals and as a community. Legacies are no less transient than anything else in this world; they have to be nurtured in the course of our daily lives.

— Mitt Regan, Professor

In 1992, Jack spent a semester teaching at a brand new law school at Palacky University, at Olomouc, in what was then Czechoslovakia, a country that had recently emerged from Soviet domination. Olomouc is a rather small city, with none of the grandeur of Prague. He gave it his all, and even raised some U.S. money so that the school could get computers. Today it is a thriving school (with, I must add, one of the strongest clinical programs in Europe). This was fine public service by a fine public-minded teacher.

— Phil Schrag, Professor

Jack was a leading citizen of our law school. He was so kind to me when I started, as we shared two courses at the time - Con Law 1 and Commercial Law. He cared deeply about students. His Commercial Law class was long a favorite of 3d year students; Jack sometimes taught two sections of 125 in one year. He once told me that he gave essentially the same test every term, just changing the names and the amounts - only a slight exaggeration. Jack would chuckle at the suggestion that he was an "active scholar," but we once co-authored an article on Article Nine - with Bill Vukovich.

Jack put enormous effort into improving the law school, seeking primarily to preserve the law school's relative autonomy within the university, which he rightly understood the be the necessary basis for our drive toward excellence. He took the time to impress on me the necessity for young faculty to get involved in school governance and to stand up for public interest. We served together for 20 years on the University free speech committee; Jack always advocated for complete freedom of expression for students within a tolerant time, place, and manner rule. He was amused that people in the university assumed that he was Catholic because of his Irish name; I think he often found it useful not to correct them. He was unfailingly witty and had an infectious twinkle, but he was shrewd and thoughtful.

He adored Lucinda and was so proud of her art.

Every school needs a Jack Murphy - but we had the real thing.

— Peter Byrne, Professor

I will always treasure Jack's good humor. Remember his graduation regalia--particularly the jester's hat he wore with such verve? He told everyone that it was given to him by the school in Czechoslovakia. He actually bought it from a vendor on 57th Street. What a wonderful friend.

— Julie O'Sullivan, Professor

How terribly sad....the passing of such a philanthropic, charming, accomplished, articulate citizen of the world and friend, who brightened the day of whomever should happen to fall into conversation with him. Wally's encomium is bang on the mark. Thelma and I are deeply moved. Our sincerest condolences and sympathy to Lucinda and family. He will NEVER be forgotten.

— Paul Rothstein, Professor

I joined Georgetown Law in 1979 as a visitor. Many colleagues were very hospitable, but Jack (and family) stood out. They were comradely, genuinely curious about my life and thought, and contributed a good deal to making me feel welcome. I admired in Jack his considerable ability to be unimpressed by the usual credentials, his empathy, and a certain moral persistence which was exemplary.

— Norman Birnbaum, Professor Emeritus

Jack was a truly kind and generous spirit. I will miss the fascinating stories he often told to encourage me when I joined the faculty.

Jack contributed to the culture of collegiality, public service and institutional independence of the Law Center that we enjoy today. The early cohort consisting of Dean David McCarthy, Jack Murphy, Roy Schotland and John Kramer were successful "institutionalists" who secured important concessions from the University. All of these survive today.

Jack was a leader among these "institutionalists" who installed a sophisticated set of financial and academic agreements and norms that still protect the law school and have allowed us to flourish and grow.

Thank you Jack for a job well done.


— Emma Coleman Jordan, Professor

I think I knew Jack longer than anyone on the faculty. I met him in the fall of 1954 when we were both freshmen at Harvard. I think it was not happenstance. Jack was so outgoing you couldn't miss him if you connected with him even casually. Our dormitories were in adjacent buildings, which caused the first meeting. I promise that I wasn't the outgoing one. Because he reached out as a matter of routine, we became friends. Different parts of the country, different interests (although as it turned out, not so different), etc., it didn't matter. We became friends.

So it was great when I joined the faculty in 1982. The friendship was renewed and continued throughout the years. As so many have said in their comments, Jack was a leader and participant in many many ways, sometimes visible and sometimes quietly, but always for the good of the school and the university. We have lost Jack now, but his imprint -- his lasting and important imprint in so many ways -- will be with us forever.

— Peter Edelman, Professor

was profoundly sorry to read of Professor John "Jack" Murphy's death in today's Washington Post. I, and others in my Class of '67, were some of his first students. As it turned out, Jack was barely five years older than we were and, in that sense, he was very much a part of our class. Ever friendly, with a wonderful sense of humor, Jack never took himself too seriously. And yet, as his extensive resume reflects, Jack was a real scholar and an extremely talented teacher of the law. Notable as well, was his sense of public service and concern for those in need. I remember well take a seminar course that Jack taught on Poverty Law and the zeal with which he taught the subject matter. I considered him a real friend. Those in our class were particularly pleased that Jack and his lovely and devoted wife, Lucinda, graced us with their presence at our class' 50th Reunion. May he rest in peace and my heartfelt condolences to Lucinda and the Murphy family.

— Dan Toomey, Law Class of '67

Jack was a pillar at Georgetown Law. Everyone knew how much he cared for Georgetown. For his last years, his office was next to mine. I especially appreciated his sensitivity to the students from other countries who came to Georgetown for their LL.M. He and Lucinda hosted some lovely receptions at their home. He understood the big picture and acted with grace toward everyone.

— Edith Brown Weiss, Professor