Tale Of Two Murrays: Sen. Therese Murray?Poised To Most Powerful Woman In Massachusetts Politics

(Sen. Therese Murray of Plymouth, whose district includes Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich and parts of Barnstable. Murray is the odds on favorite to replace Robert Travaglini as Massachusetts Senate President. Travaglini is expected to leave his post for a job with the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals. A recent profile in the Boston Irish Reporter (reprinted below) provides an intimate view of Murray, her politics and accomplishments

 (In a tale of two Murrays, Boston Cod blog offers a detailed profile of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who recently took on some of Gov. Duval Patrick’s responsibilities when Patrick announced he was temporarily cutting back on his schedule to spend more time with his wife, Diane, whom he said was suffering from exhaustion and depressions.

 (The two Murrays represent yet another changing of the guard in Beacon Hill politics.)

 By Greg O’Brien, Boston Irish Reporter

murrayterese175Ask anyone who knows State Sen. Therese Murray—the multi-tasking chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and one of the most influential women in a state dominated by powerful “Y” chromosomes—and they will tell you she is a font of energy that can compete with any power source in Massachusetts. Her drive, passion and verve light up Beacon Hill. The long-time Plymouth resident, a single mother in her seventh term representing the diverse towns of Plymouth, Pembroke, Kingston, Plympton, Sandwich, Bourne, Falmouth and three Barnstable precincts, has an indefatigable capability for analysis, compassion, compromise where it is justified, and confrontation when it’s not. The 14-year veteran of the State House, who gives every indication she will seek the Senate presidency one day when her close friend and mentor Robert E. Travaglini steps away from the leadership dais, can in political terms not only walk and chew gum with the boys, but she can pick up the loose wrappers with ease, the frayed ends of government.

Over the years those loose ends have included championing welfare and education reform, financial assistance for children with catastrophic illnesses, critical assistance for seniors who want to stay in their homes, protection of the environment, shoring up the state’s economy, and other challenges.

On many days, it is hard to tell Murray’s desk from a file cabinet. Mountains of memos, newspaper clips, pending legislation, and proposals in a $26 billion budget that she oversees in the Senate and directs like a traffic cop obscure the view of a worn, scratched surface. On this cloudy day in October when the first chill of fall penetrates like creosote on new decking, Murray is in her second floor office suite overlooking a bleak Boston Common juggling the realities of her position. “The biggest challenge of the job is trying to fund all the needs. It’s impossible,” she declares to a visitor.

Within seconds, the phone rings with another need. President Travaglini is on the horn with a question. The two talk numerous times a day, with Murray adroitly fielding queries about a particular bill, issue or individual. Routine business this morning, but the point is made. “We can interact as much as 200 times a day,” she says, with slight exaggeration. “He’ll call often to ask my opinion. We were both elected in ’93 and quickly bonded. We were city kids. It’s a strong working partnership.”

She pauses, then adds with emphasis, “But he’s the boss!”

What has made Murray a survivor in a trenchant male world up at the State House is her self-discipline, impressive intellect, zeal for politics, fairness, and gut sense of the pecking order—all hand-me-downs from her parents, both second generation Irish Americans who knew the worth of personal integrity, care for others, and a hard day’s work.

Murray was raised in Dorchester, and while she has lost much of the accent, the staccato pace is still there. Her stereotypical Dorchester independence, family values and street smarts are still with her. Born at “St. E’s” (Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital on Cambridge Street in Boston) and after living briefly in Roxbury’s Mission Hill projects, Murray’s family, five girls and a brother who died in infancy, settled into St. Matthew’s Parish, then moved on to St. Mark’s where Murray and her sisters attended parochial school under the heed of the nuns. Her father, Richard Hollum, whose Irish roots hail from Cork, worked three jobs to support the family—an office supervisor for a now defunct Boston book company, a night catering job and weekends at a South End hardware store. “My dad was never home,” recalls Murray. “He was always working, but so were all the other fathers in Dorchester in those days.” Murray’s mother, Helena (“She hated the name and called herself Eleanor), also worked a full-time clerical job, starting when her youngest child was eight months old. “It was unusual in those days for a mother of five to be working, but we needed the money,” says Murray, noting her mother’s family came from Dublin and Limerick. “She taught us to be self sufficient.”

It was a trait imbedded in the girls, who learned to carry their share of the family load at an early age, with the older ones watching out for the younger ones, and all in time taking turns cooking meals. “I remember when my older sister Eileen was 12, she would take all of us in the summer on the train to the beach in Revere,” recalls Murray, the middle child. “We were always a close family, and the church was the center of it. My parents were loving, strict and devout Catholics. I never heard them say a bad thing about anyone, but the English. You know how that is with the Irish!”

After grammar school, the girls attended Cardinal Cushing, and then to lives of achievement. The oldest, Eileen, now retired, was head of nursing services at a County Hospital in Los Angeles. Second in command, Kathleen, is a certified public accountant and a treasurer for an international charity headquartered in the South Shore. Murray’s younger sister, Rita, is an administrator at Boston Medical Center, and the baby of the family, Virginia, is administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Weymouth.

So how did Murray fall into politics?

“My parents were staunch Democrats, but never had time for organized politics,” she says. “They must have passed the fascination on to me.” As a young girl, when most kids her age were collecting baseball cards, Murray was gathering political cards, those sepia handouts from the candidates. “I’d hang out at the polling places. Politics in Dorchester was a contact sport for me. There was always an opinion to discuss, always someone whose politics you liked or disliked. I was baptized in it.”

At 12, she got her feet wet in her first formal campaign—working the phones for Ted Kennedy’s initial Senate run. Her uncle, active in politics in Allston, got her the summer job. “I remember getting an invitation to the campaign event on Election Day,” she says. “I was so excited, but it was at night and my parents said I couldn’t go.” Over the years, Murray worked on numerous campaigns, including the gubernatorial bid of Michael Dukakis—volunteer work that ultimately landed her a post as Director of Mitigation for the Massachusetts Highway Department. The job offer came after attending college and holding hospital and human service positions and a job selling franchises for American Cablevision. “Mass Highway needed someone to do community relations for the Southeast Expressway project that was under consideration at the time,” she says.

Murray—who in the 1970s had moved to Plymouth with her husband (they are now divorced) and early on had declined several solicitations to run for public office— held the Mass Highway post until the early 1990s when she was summarily fired by incoming Republican Governor William Weld for being the wrong political color. “I made the hit list,” she says. “I lost my job, was a single mother at the time and had to find work.” So she sold real estate, and answered the call to politics, running for the state Senate in 1992 and beating a 20-year Republican incumbent her first time out—a time when the local economy was in the tank and incumbents were losing jobs and homes. Political payback is sweet and Murray has never looked back, only to reaffirm her roots and her instincts to help others.

“I was raised at a time of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War,” she says, noting the turmoil had an indelible affect on her. “I saw horrible things on television at night. Blacks being hosed, beaten and attacked by dogs, and thousands of soldiers killed in war. I will never forget it. I have an innate sense of caring and fairness from my parents. If I’m off balance on it, it makes me a little crazy.”

Her feral nature has been a great blessing to Massachusetts residents, who have benefited from the many welfare reform and human services enhancements she has successfully advocated through her work as chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Welfare Reform and on the Long-Term Care Committee—among them the Catastrophic Illness In Children Relief Fund and the Choice Bill that offers essential human services to seniors who want to say in their homes. She also has made significant contributions in the areas of local aid, public safety, transportation improvements, and law enforcement issues.

On balance, life has been good to Murray. There are few regrets. “I wish at times I could have been a better parent,” she says in a moment of candor. But don’t we all. As she sits today in her corner office overlooking the Common, surrounded by photographs of family, politicians (Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, to mention a few), she talks about her future, always looking forward to the next challenge.

“I like my work,” she says, noting her days often begin at 7 am in Plymouth and can run past midnight in Boston. “I think I can bring people together to get to ‘yes.’ It may take a while, but I usually can get there.”

Asked about the senate presidency, she replies, “If Trav decides to leave one day, I certainly would like to be considered. I think I have the same kind of openness that he has. If the position was available and the timing was right, I’d ask my colleagues to support me.”

“But one day at a time,” she adds.

Murray has lived one day at a time since her days in Dorchester, and understands the fragile, fleeting and changing nature of life. She carefully ponders a final question about that day in the future when she finally packs her boxes and moves out of the State House and on to another mission, perhaps private philanthropic work.

“When you’re out, you’re out,” she says, looking up from a conference table. “When you’re gone, people forget you quickly. I guess I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared and was a fine and decent person.”

In today’s self-centered, self-seeking world, that’s something hard to forget.

(Greg O’Brien is editor and president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and political/strategy company based in Brewster. The author/editor of several books, he is a regular contributor to regional newspapers and magazines, a political columnist for Boston Metro newspaper and a television scriptwriter. He is currently at work on a book on crisis communications, and contributes regularly to his two blogs: Boston Cod and Codfish Press.)

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