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Former Duquesne University President Murray dies at 82

| Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, 5:42 p.m.
Dr. John Murray, former Duquesne University president.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Dr. John Murray, former Duquesne University president.
Dr. John E. Murray Jr., former Duquesne University president.
Dr. John E. Murray Jr., former Duquesne University president.

John E. Murray Jr. is remembered as a legal scholar and prominent educator who helped to change the face of Duquesne University and Allegheny County without losing his dedication to teaching his students.

Murray, who served as Duquesne University's president from 1988 through 2001, died of a heart attack Wednesday afternoon at UPMC Shadyside. He was 82.

“Duquesne — and Pittsburgh — lost an incredibly talented leader, teacher, scholar, author and lawyer,” said Charles J. Dougherty, Duquesne's current president. “His contributions here at Duquesne, as well as his service on numerous government, charitable and legal boards and committees, have improved the lives of many over the course of his remarkable career.”

Ken Gormley, a state Supreme Court nominee and dean of Duquesne's law school, called Murray “probably the greatest contract scholar in the United States.”

“He was a scholar, but he also was a man who had tremendous interest in the individual,” said the Rev. Sean Hogan, executive vice president of student life at Duquesne.

“He had time for the youngest and the oldest student. He would make a special effort to help struggling students, giving them special tutoring in his office, even when he was president. He still taught in the law school when he was president and would have special classes for students who were having problems,” Hogan said.

Murray, known for waking every morning at 5 a.m. to write, continued to teach until the day he died, Gormley said.

“He's been teaching a full load and is the best teacher in the building, I might add. He taught (Tuesday.) He had inexhaustible energy,” Gormley said.

“I remember when I was first teaching (at the University of Pittsburgh), I taught minority students and older women who were coming to law school in a program to boost their chances of success. My job was to work one on one with students, and I had to reach out to faculty members to get them to help,” Gormley said.

“The first person to volunteer to sit down with them was always John Murray, who (as dean of Pitt's school of law) was the busiest person in the building.”

Murray, a native of the Philadelphia area with degrees from LaSalle, The Catholic University of America and the University of Wisconsin, became an assistant professor at Duquesne in 1959. He spent 21 years at Pitt and later served as a dean at Villanova's law school.

“He was a wonderful educator, a highly respected legal scholar, and just a great guy in every respect,” said attorney H. Yale Gutnick, board chairman of Trib Total Media. Gutnick is senior shareholder of Strassburger, McKenna, Gutnick & Gefsky law firm. “He will certainly be missed by so many segments of our community.”

By all accounts, Duquesne was a struggling university with declining enrollment and a multimillion-dollar negative fund balance when Murray, by that time a University Distinguished Service Professor at Pitt, was recruited to become the school's first lay president.

“He was instrumental in changing the whole profile and future of Duquesne University,” Gormley said. “It was teetering on the brink of serious problems, and John Murray turned everything around and made it look effortless.”

Hogan agreed.

“He changed the face of the university both academically and physically. He approached the university with great positiveness and great hope, and saw that we could become much greater than we really were at the time,” Hogan said.

“He rejuvenated that college. He breathed new life into it and made it into what it is today, a first-class university,” said Bob Cranmer, a 1978 Duquesne graduate, who was an Allegheny County Commissioner when he and the other commissioners selected Murray as chair of The Committee to Prepare Allegheny County for the 21st Century (ComPAC 21).

One of ComPAC 21's many good suggestions, Cranmer said, was doing away with the county's three-person commissioner system and replacing it with a county executive and county council.

Murray was appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004 as one of the original board members, and later chairman, of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority that oversees the City of Pittsburgh's finances, said ICA executive director Henry Sciortino.

“He brought a calm and super professionalism to the board, helping to bridge a lot of political gaps and cut through some of the contentiousness that existed at the time,” Sciortino said.

Tom Murphy, who was Pittsburgh's mayor in 2004, called Murray “the consummate gentleman.”

“I would have wanted to hire him if I wanted to negotiate something. I never saw him lose his temper ... even when someone became obnoxious.”

As a law professor, Murray won numerous teaching awards and wrote 26 books. He won the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Conference of Professors of Contract Law.

Murray is survived by his wife, Marjorie; four children; and six grandchildren.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or at mhasch@tribweb.com.

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