2014 Tucson Founders Award Honoree Jim Murphy

By Valerie Vinyard –

Jim Murphy’s life is a biography waiting to be written. Family man. Marine. Foreman. Distributor. Elected official. Government administrator. Founder of nonprofits.

A new chapter would include his latest accolade – the 2014 Tucson Founders Award to be presented by Greater Tucson Leadership on Feb. 7 at the 62nd Annual Man and Woman of the Year and Founders Award Gala at Loews Ventana Canyon.

Established in 1985 by the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, now Tucson Metro Chamber, the award goes to someone who has “demonstrated significant long-term community involvement and accomplishments and who has helped shape the community in a quality, positive manner.”

“Jim has done extraordinary things in our community for a number of years,” said Suzanne McFarlin, executive director for GTL, which became a partner program of the chamber in 2012 and now presents the Man and Woman of the Year and Founders Awards. “We recognize him as a founder who has made a number of contributions in a selfless way. This award is really a lifetime achievement award.”

While chatting at a northwest Starbucks, Murphy talked about the marriage of his daughter Tamah a few days earlier.

“Family is the most important thing,” said Murphy, who was born in Pennsylvania and moved with his family to Tucson when he was 8 years old. “My wife and I feel we have set a tone for our kids and our grandkids. Part of what we’re here for is to help others.”

Murphy’s biography would detail a range of occupations, including serving eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve, “cable splicer helper” with Mountain Bell Telephone Company, second-shift shipping foreman at Krueger Manufacturing and – most importantly – husband of 46 years to Connie, dad to daughters Michele and Tamah, and grandfather to three.
It was politics where Murphy began making his mark on this community.

The former junior class president at Salpointe Catholic High School – and member of the Salpointe Sports Hall of Fame – won a spot on the Tucson City Council as a Democrat from 1965 to 1968. He resigned to become a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors from 1968 to 1975.

In 1975, he resigned again after being appointed Pima County’s assistant county manager. For 22 years, he served in government administration, the last 10 as director of Pima County’s healthcare system.

Murphy then devoted 15 years to the Pima Council on Aging, the last six-and-a-half as CEO. He retired from PCOA in January 2013.

Addressing the needs of older residents hasn’t been Murphy’s sole nonprofit focus. He’s helped establish several organizations in Tucson – including Reading Seed, Compass Health Care (now Pasadera Behavioral Health Network) and Tu Nidito Children and Family Services.

His current affiliations include serving as president of the board of directors for Administration of Resources & Choices, Casitas On East Broadway, ITN GreaterTucson and NBA Estes Gardens Apartments, and president of the Tucson Housing Foundation board of trustees. He also serves on the Arizona Public Media Community Advisory Board and is chair of the City of Tucson Mayor’s Senior Task Force.

“I’m very busy, but I’m not getting paid, which I don’t mind,” Murphy said. “I like to be active, to give back, to make a difference. I know those sound like clichés, but why are we here?”

Charlotte Harris nominated Murphy for the Founders Award. Harris was a Woman of the Year recipient in 1984.

She met Murphy when her husband, Michael J. Harris, served as his city council campaign chair. She also has served on the American Cancer Society and Tu Nidito boards with him and they both belong to the Rotary Club of Tucson.

“I’ve known Jim for over 40 years,” said Harris, who also graduated from Salpointe. “He has always done the job thoroughly, passionately and with not a lot of fanfare. He is a very special person. He has so much depth in this community.”

Murphy noted some things most people don’t know about him:
He used to be an owner of Yogi’s, a lounge on East Speedway. Later he owned My Brother’s Place, a folk music club on Copper Street where Peter, Suzy and Linda Ronstadt performed as the New Union Ramblers. He even tried his hand at distributing for about five years when he and a friend provided mini-chimis to stores in Tucson, Phoenix and Albuquerque.

“There’s a purpose for us being here, and that’s how I express it,” Murphy said. “We all contribute in our own ways.”

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