Remembering Harold Murphree

By Matt Cantor
Thursday October 29, 2009 - 09:21:00 AM
Harold Murphree
Harold Murphree

Our dear friend Harold Mark Murphree died in his sleep in the early morning of Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009, at the age of 60, after a night of warm banter with close friends. We are all deeply grieved at this profound loss. 

Who, now, will cite forgotten Macedonian military strategy, local rhyolite formations or examine Second Dynasty Egyptian mummification rites? 

Who will move great boulders by hand, restoring streams, assaulting them with geometry and bodily sinew?  

Who will carry 18 buckets of tadpoles in the bed of his Ford F1 so that tiny croaking sounds might break the evening silence?  

Who will witness the mighty Epipactis gigantea as it struggles against the over-full blue recycling tote? 

Who will argue the validity of determining electron location or the root causes of H1N1? 

In his absence, who will build the canted stone wall that enfolds the secret garden, mortaring tiny chinks in place to create the sublime, the overwhelming beauty? 

Who will read our articles or poems with such care, noticing the tiniest and most personal particle of voice, turning the leaf and noting the lowly creature beneath? Who is left to do that? 

And who will tell small and epic stories to Rose? To Sierra? And to all of us? 

Harold M. Murphree was the son of Harold C. Murphree, a U.S. Army neurosurgeon, who moved with his family many times over the course of a military career. Harold C. died in 2006, and was blessedly not forced to experience his son’s untimely death at the hands of multiple myeloma and a health care system that does not care or do enough. 

There is something elegantly poetic about Harold being related to Daniel Boone on his mother’s side, Emilee Boone Murphree of Ashland, Ore., a city which Harold observed was “too much powdered sugar.” He was like that. Hyperbolic, absurd or very serious. 

His daughter Sierra recalled Harold filling his lungs with helium to perform from Huckleberry Finn during her childhood. He was the same in recent years. Always entertaining in his droll, falsely serious persona of scientist, raconteur. Often he was simply an attendant ear to his many close friends.  

Harold began college at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., but came to Berkeley (lucky for us) in the late ’60s. Though he never earned a degree, he would doubtless have made an outstanding teacher in any of several fields, having read deeply and relentlessly through his adult life and with little fear of complexity. 

Harold leaves behind too many loving friends and intimates to mention, but here is something of a list. His siblings, from eldest to youngest are Gwyn Bissel of Napa, Terry Littleton of Ashland, Ore. (cue Harold!), Tom Murphree of Monterey, Eric Murphree of Albuquerque, N.M., Carl Murphree of Marshall, Mo. and Phil Murphree of Gillette, Wyo. He is survived by his mother and the mothers of his two daughters: Rosemary, who lives locally and is mother to Sierra (34), and Jackie Gamble, mother to Rose Ines Murphree Gamble (13). Our thoughts are constantly with these two young women. 

He is also survived by his friends, Emmy, Phil, Lorna, Mark, Richard, Karl, Matt, Martin, Glen, Natalie, John and all the faithful at the Vine Street Peet’s and around Berkeley, as well as dozens of garden owners, homeowners, and others who benefitted and continue to benefit from his skill. We also wish to mention Don and Tracy Flory, Gigi Gamble, Joan Monheit, Margie Cohen, Sharon and Ben Ruffman-Cohen, Cate, Tom and Este. 

He will be deeply missed and never forgotten while we are alive to kindle these flames.