A fading newspaper story hangs, framed, on the wall in Norwood police Lt. Brian Murphy’s home. The headline says: “Four of One Family Policemen. Murphys of Norwood Have Done Their Share in the Interest of Law and Order.”
The story ran in the Boston Globe Oct. 6,1912. The four Murphy brothers gaze earnestly from a photo, with their tum-of-the-century style policemen’s hats pulled low over their eyes. One of them, Cornelius, is Lt. Murphy’s grandfather. That year, Cornelius walked the beat in Norwood through an immigrant neighborhood that people called “Stink Alley” because of its foul-smelling tanneries.
It’s now 80 years later, and a lot has changed in Norwood. The tanneries are gone, and in all likelihood, most people have never heard of Stink Alley. But some things have remained the same. For one, the Murphys are still on the police force, five strong, all grandchildren of Cornelius Murphy, the third generation of Murphys to make careers on the Norwood force.
If Cornelius and his brothers initiated the tradition, then James M. (Jim) Murphy, nurtured it. James followed in his father Cornelius’ footsteps by becoming a police officer in Norwood in 1943. In 30 years he earned the respect of his peers nationwide for his skills as an investigator and his dedication to “professionalizing” police work. And in the 10 years he served as chief, Jim Murphy won the admiration and affection of the town that trusted him. He died of a heart attack in 1973 after working day and night for a month on a double murder investigation. Norwood’s old-timers still stop his children on the street to tell them stories about how their father helped them.
Before his death, Chief Murphy managed to instill an interest in police work in at least four of his 10 children – three sons and a daughter serve in the Norwood Police Department. Bill was appointed to the force in 1974 and is now a sergeant. Brian was hired as a civilian dispatcher in 1979, and was appointed patrolman in 1982, lieutenant in 1990 and now is a shift commander. Their sister, Patrolman Maureen Murphy, became a prison guard in 1979, then joined the Norwood police force in 1984. And a fourth sibling, Paul Murphy, 29, was appointed a patrolman the next year.
Their cousin, Detective Neil Murphy, is also a Norwood cop. He said he was influenced by the stories his father, John, told about his days as a Marine MP, but he also looked up to his uncle, the chief.
Brian Murphy, the unofficial spokesman for Jim Murphy’s children, said there was never any direct pressure to become a police officer. Instead, law enforcement was like a bug that you couldn’t help but catch.
The third generation grew up immersed in police work, Brian said. They were conscious of their father’s profession from an early age, and that sense of family business was reinforced by their mother’s two brothers, who were police officers in New York state. Sunday outings often ended up at the mounted police stables, Brian said, or on one of the police boats.
Jim Murphy was always clear about his expectations for his children. “He let us know that there are good people and there are bad people, and that we were going to be good people,” Lt. Brian Murphy said. “You never wanted to disappoint him.”
One of the tenets the Murphy kids learned from their Dad was that police officers must hold themselves to the same high standards they enforce on the public. He must have taught the lesson well, because the Murphys of Norwood have a reputation among their fellow officers for being “straight arrows.”
For Brian and the others, the Murphy legacy is a desire to make an impact on the world around you.
“Police work itself is made up of common sense and compassion,” Brian said. “You can make a difference in someone’s life every day. You can show someone courtesy or you can make sure somebody else shows courtesy. Without getting too philosophical, if you only get to be on earth for a short while, this is one way to do some good.”
Cornelius would be proud.
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