Apr 8, 2012

Laura Jean Murray (1921-2012)

The notice in the Norman Transcript, preliminary as it may have been, simply didn't do her justice.  "Laura J. Murray, 90, of Norman died Wednesday, April 4, 2012. Arrangements are pending with Primrose Funeral Service...."  To anyone who knew this wonderful lady, even the notice should have said a whole lot more.

I first met Laura Jean when I arrived at the University of Oklahoma's Naval ROTC unit in August, 1965.  She greeted me when I walked into the office.  Her desk was right in front of the door.  She was the first person you would encounter when entering the office.  She was the face of OU's NROTC unit.

I was to learn that Laura Jean had been married to Colonel Joseph Murray, a man destined to be selected for Brigadier when he was struck down by a fatal heart attack while in his forties.  This had left Laura Jean to move on without the love of her life to help raise their teen aged daughter Marilyn.  Laura Jean had worked for a state senator for a couple years when the NROTC job became available.  She was very excited about the opportunity to work with the military.

From the start, you knew that this was a very special lady.  She exuded elegance in a very down-to-earth way.  There was not a hair out of place and she always wore proper professional attire, but Laura Jean treated everyone like family.  She knew no strangers.  And you knew by her manner that she was in charge and everything was under control.

I don't know how long LJ worked for the unit, but it was a lo-o-o-ng time.  Probably thirty years.  And the amazing thing is that she touched the lives of every Midshipman who came through the unit.  She was their resident mother.  And she remembered them - each and every one.  She referred to them by all three of their names, if they had middle names.  That's the way she entered them on the countless forms that she filled out -- David Allen Jones, Michael Thomas Myers, and so on.

Her involvement went way beyond the mundane processing of data; she
loved these young men.  They were her kids.  She laughed and cried with them.  They asked her for advice and she gave it.  And always upbeat and with a smile.

I remember those days when we heard that some of our graduates had died in Viet Nam.  She cried the tears of a mother who had lost one of her own.  And when graduates came back to visit with wives and kids in tow, it was time for the joy of a mother holding her new grandchild.

The unit recognized Laura Jean in a very special way a few years ago and it's a story worth telling.  One of the unit's Commanding Officers, Captain Urice, had a brilliant idea.  The drug enforcement agency had a glut of seized property, including some beautiful yachts, that had belonged to some drug lords.  Why not acquire one of these to use as a training vessel to teach midshipmen how to sail?  And who better to name it after than Laura Jean Murray?

They acquired one of the seized sailboats and had it refurbished.  There was the minor issue of the navy policy of never naming its vessels after living persons.  That was solved with a discrete congressional resolution making an exception.  And so was born the "Laura Jean," the unit's own training vessel, to be kept at Lake Thunderbird, not far from Norman.

Of course, LJ knew nothing of these developments.  

On March 19th, 1985, the big day of its christening, the boat (ship?)
, its freshly-painted hull glistening, was perched on a low-boy truck and trailer.  It was brought around the Parrington Oval on campus and parked in front of the administration building.  There were seats for the assembled dignitaries and a podium and a small military band.  As I heard the story, the Captain asked Laura Jean to accompany him to the admin building to take care of some administrative items.  They proceeded from the NROTC armory to the back of Evans Hall.  The crowd was assembled in front where she couldn't see them.  The CO escorted her through the building and out the front door to her total surprise.  The president of the university and many others paid tribute to her dedication and contributions, after which the "Laura Jean" was properly christened.  I can't imagine a more deserving namesake.

Rest in peace, LJ.  Once again, you're with your beloved Joe.


Anonymous said...

I just read your blog on the passing of Laura Jean. I went through the NROTC unit from 1986-1990, during which time Ms. Murray retired. I am now 22 years in the Marine Corps, retiring next year, and planning to attend her interment at Arlington this Friday.

To answer your question, Capt Urice was the name of the Navy Captain who was the unit CO during the acquisition of the boat.

Bob said...

Thanks for that information. I have updated the entry.