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Richard B. Murray
Richard B. Murray served as the provost and vice president for academic affairs from 1988-91 and 1993-94. Photo courtesy of University Archives and Records Management.

In Memoriam: Richard B. Murray

Photo courtesy of University Archives and Records Management

Colleagues recall former provost, professor emeritus of physics

Richard B. Murray, former University of Delaware provost and a long-time member of the University’s physics faculty, died on Jan. 6, 2019. He was 90.

“On behalf of the entire University of Delaware, Eleni and I extend our deepest condolences to Dr. Murray’s family, his colleagues and his many friends,” UD President Dennis Assanis said. “A highly respected scholar and administrator, Dr. Murray has had a true and lasting impact in his field and on this University and its academic programs.”

University Provost Robin Morgan said, “Dick Murray was a giant at UD to scores of students and faculty. His steady hand and wise counsel guided this University for many years and helped lay the foundation for where we are now.”

Dr. Murray joined the University’s Department of Physics in 1966 and went on to serve in a number of administrative posts, including acting chair of the department in 1975-76, University coordinator for graduate studies from 1979-85 and associate provost for graduate studies from 1986-88.

From 1988-91 and in 1993-94, Dr. Murray served as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. When his second term as provost concluded, the University’s Board of Trustees voted to have the word “interim” removed from his title as a sign of the University’s “deepest gratitude and appreciation” for his “outstanding service.” The trustee resolution also saluted his “unwavering commitment to academic excellence” and noted, “He has won the trust and respect of the University faculty, his staff and others who work with him. Through all this, he has acted with dignity, a wry sense of humor and a firm commitment to excellence.”

When Dr. Murray retired in 1998 after 32 years of service at the University, he was named professor emeritus.

A memorial event celebrating Dr. Murray’s life will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 23, in the Gore Recital Hall of the Roselle Center for the Arts on the University’s Newark campus.

‘The consummate professional’

Some of Dr. Murray’s colleagues shared their memories of him.

Dr. Murray served as provost during the tenure of President Emeritus David Roselle, who noted, “Dick was widely experienced in all aspects of higher education. He was a wise and willing source of good counsel and a friend to all".

David E. Hollowell, executive vice president and treasurer emeritus, said, “I had the pleasure of working closely with Dick during both of his terms as provost, particularly on matters related to the budget. Dick had a great ability to grasp the big picture and set academic priorities. He also had a great sense of humor that helped get through some of the more difficult times. On a personal note, Dick's first coming as provost was shortly after my wife, Kathy, and I arrived at UD. He and Clella reached out to us making introductions to many in the UD community and making us feel at home. Dick was a true gentleman and scholar who I am fortunate to have known as a colleague and friend.”

Dr. Murray was the Ph.D. adviser of Robert Birkmire, now professor of physics and of materials science and engineering and former director of UD’s Institute of Energy Conversion. “Dick Murray played an important role as a mentor in the development of my professional career,” Birkmire said. “He had a great sense of humor, although subtle. One of my favorite memories was a conversation with Dick when he told me, ‘If you’re going to pursue a faculty position, make sure the appointment is with tenure.’ I followed his advice! Dick would host parties at his home where I met his wife, Clella, and developed a lasting friendship. On one occasion in a celebration in the physics department, I commented on Dick’s coiffure and presented him with a wig and to my surprise he promptly put the wig on!”

Department colleague George Hadjipanayis, who holds the Richard B. Murray Professorship of Physics and Astronomy, wrote, “When I joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1989, Dr. Murray was the provost of our University. I will always remember his encouragement and support in my early days at UD, trying to set up my lab and establish my research program on magnetic materials. I have been very honored and humbled to hold the title of Richard B. Murray Professor of Physics, a named professorship that he set up in our department. When Dr. Murray moved to Hullihen Hall and after his retirement, he always kept his love for the physics department -- he never missed a Christmas party or any other function we were having within the department. I will always remember him and his wife, Clella, coming every year to our fall departmental picnics where they enjoyed our lamb and pig roast. Dr. Murray was a great man and a true ‘gentleman.’ I will greatly miss him.”

William T. Franz, currently provost and vice president for academic affairs at Randolph-Macon College, earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from UD and was one of Dr. Murray’s students. “Dr. Murray was a mentor to several fine graduate students,” he wrote. “He taught us good science and he also taught us to be good scientists. He was certainly one of the best classroom teachers in the Physics Department; lectures were meticulously prepared and every detail mattered. I can still look at my class notes from courses I took with him 40 years ago and follow the derivations and ideas. Since I wound up following a career path not dissimilar to his – faculty member in a physics department ultimately becoming the provost of the institution – I can say that he was also a role model as an academic administrator. He was always the consummate professional. This was evidenced in everything from his attire to his careful choice of words, even the cadence of his speaking. While he approached problems with wisdom, care and analytical acumen, he also went about his work with compassion, integrity, dignity and grace, characteristics that embody the best an academic administrator can be.

“Dick Murray also knew how to have fun,” Franz continued. “He was a good storyteller. Beyond that, every student who ever visited his house was humbled by him at his pingpong table. And every student who visited his house knew how much he loved his wife and daughters. He had a great deal from his own career about which he could have bragged, but it was the achievements of his family that we were likely to hear more about.”

About Richard B. Murray

Born in Marietta, Georgia, in 1928, Dr. Murray earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Emory University at the age of 18, followed by a master of science degree in physics from Ohio State University in 1950 and his doctorate in physics from the University of Tennessee in 1955.

In 1956, he married his fellow researcher, Clella Bay, when they were working together at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. They later settled in Delaware, and raised their daughters, Ada Ruth and Annette.

As a young man, Dr. Murray did physics research at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He received research grants from the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy in the area of radiation effects in insulators and in amorphous metallic alloys. He was a participant on the founding Board of Directors of ORTEC Inc. in 1960. He invented a detector that incorporated the company’s silicon surface barrier detectors and associated neutron detection system.

The author of more than 50 articles on nuclear and solid state physics in professional journals, he was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society, as well as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Pi Sigma, a physics honor society, and Sigma Xi.

In 1992, he served as a visiting scientist at Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford University in England.

Over the years, Dr. Murray provided leadership to many organizations, serving as a trustee of the Sanford School in Hockessin, Delaware; as board chair for the Oak Ridge Association University Foundation; as a board member of Delaware Institute for Medical Education and Research (DIMER); and as a board member of Southeastern University Research Association.

According to his family, Dr. Murray was known by all for his talent and enthusiasm in golfing, his interest in model trains and his love of hiking and fishing to relax. He always enjoyed a good story, especially a funny one, and was quick to laugh and spread happiness. He sponsored numerous family trips for vacations around the globe (London, Italy, France, Japan) and ensured that his children and grandchildren shared his love of different cultures and their foods. Special places for him included a cottage in the woods of North Carolina and a beach condo in Bethany, Delaware, where he could watch the family grow and appreciate annual picnics and kite flying. He was dedicated to his family and friends who all came to him as a trusted adviser, mentor and confidant.

Dr. Murray is survived by his wife of 63 years, Clella Murray; daughter, Ada Koch, and her husband, Kevin, and children Megan Schraedley (husband Eric), Gwen and RJ; daughter, Annette Orella and her husband, Chuck, and children Michael and Frankie. In addition to his parents, William and Ruth, he is predeceased by his siblings WM and Anita.

Condolences may be left online.

Donations can be made in Dr. Murray’s memory to the Richard B. Murray Physics Graduate Research Fund. Please send contributions to: University of Delaware, Gifts Processing, 83 East Main St., 3rd Fl., Newark, DE 19716. Make checks payable to: "University of Delaware" and include on the memo line “in memory of Richard B. Murray.” Gifts can also be made on the University of Delaware’s secure website.

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