In Memoriam - Dr. John E. Murray Jr.

Photo of Dr. John Murray Dr. John E. Murray Jr., chancellor and professor of law at Duquesne University, died unexpectedly on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 while still actively engaged as a teacher and scholar of contracts law. Murray served as Duquesne’s 11th president from 1988 through 2001. He was 82.

“Duquesne—and Pittsburgh—lost an incredibly talented leader, teacher, scholar, author and lawyer today,” said Dr. Charles J. Dougherty, Duquesne University president. “His contributions here at Duquesne, as well as his service on numerous government, charitable and legal boards and committees have improved the lives of many over the course of his remarkable career.”  

Dean Ken Gormley, who was hired for his first teaching job at Pitt Law School by Murray in 1982, and then worked closely with Murray at Duquesne for the past 20 years, stated: “Chancellor Murray was still the best teacher in the building. He was a brilliant instructor who cared deeply for his students.  He had a great sense of humor and a deep commitment to using the law for the good of others.  He was also one of the greatest Contracts scholars in the world.  It will be impossible to duplicate or replace him.”

Murray, who was Duquesne’s first lay president, brought a tradition of service to Duquesne and led the University during a period of sustained growth and progress, including new schools and programs. As a law professor, Murray won numerous teaching awards and wrote 26 books, several articles and won the 2013 lifetime achievement award from the International Conference of Professors of Contract Law for his life’s work. The hallmark of his scholarship is his renowned Murray on Contracts and Murray, Cases and Materials on Contracts. These books are used regularly in every law school in the United States; they are cited as an authority in federal and state court cases throughout America, including the United States Supreme Court. In 2014, Pittsburgh Magazine named Murray as one of the eight leading professors among all universities in the Pittsburgh region.  

In addition to being named Man of the Year in Pittsburgh, Murray also was honored as a History Maker in Pittsburgh and one of the 100 Pittsburgh Citizens of the Century. Before coming to Duquesne, he served as dean of the University of Pittsburgh and Villanova University Schools of Law. 

Murray served as chairman of ComPAC 21, the committee to Prepare Allegheny County for the 21st century and chairman of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. He has also served on numerous community boards including the Thea Bowman Foundation, Hill House Association, Catholic Action League and Pittsburgh Opera, among others, and has provided advice to various leaders concerned with enhancing the quality of life in the region. 

Murray earned his bachelor’s degree from La Salle University, his law degree from the Catholic University of America and his J.S.D. from the University of Wisconsin. He also held honorary doctoral degrees from La Salle University and Carnegie Mellon University.  An accomplished jazz pianist, Murray put himself through college and law school playing in bands and clubs.  Stated one family member: “He was always most alive when he was teaching or playing the piano.”

His son, Tim, who earned his law degree at the University of Pittsburgh while his father was dean there, recalled: “We all knew he was a famous contracts professor.  But he was kind, gentle, caring and always had time to help anybody who needed help, no matter how busy he was.”  As a child, the younger Murray recalled his father climbing up three stories onto the roof -- dressed in his standard white shirt, tie and suitcoat -- to retrieve a lost wiffle ball. Although Murray was a quiet family man, he was also a masterful speaker and charismatic figure.  “He could hold a crowd in his hands,” said his son, “and he could convince people to see things his way without ever pushing them.”

Mark Nordenberg, Chancellor Emeritus of University of Pittsburgh, recalled his close relationship with Murray from the time he was a young faculty whom Murray hired to teach Civil Procedure.  Nordenberg stated that Murray was a role model and mentor for him throughout his own career, and he was especially touched when Murray presented him with an honorary degree at the Duquesne University Law School Commencement this past June, just as Nordenberg was stepping down as Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.  “That was a very special moment,” said Nordenberg.  

Friends and colleagues remembered that Murray was a man of deep faith, who’s religious and ethical principles guided his whole career.  “Chancellor Murray loved teaching and playing a leadership role at Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit,” said Gormley, “because he believed that its mission of serving God by serving its students was a noble enterprise and an embodiment of his own deep Catholic faith.”  

Contributions should be made to the “Call to Excellence Fund – Duquesne Law School,” 900 Locust Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15282.