Remembering Professor Earl Finbar Murphy
Earl Finbar Murphy, the C. William O'Neill Professor of Law Emeritus, died July 23, 2006, in Indianapolis, at the age of 77. A brilliant and erudite scholar, he contributed greatly not only to his field, but also to the lives of those around him.
After finishing first in his class at Indiana University School of Law, Professor Murphy practiced law for two years in Indianapolis. He then went on to become a graduate law fellow at Yale. Subsequently, he briefly taught at the State University of New York- Binghamton and Temple University School of Law.
He joined the Ohio State law faculty in 1969. A pioneer in his field, Professor Murphy was instrumental in helping to expand the field of environmental law into what it is today. Professor Murphy has written several books, including Water Purity; Governing Nature; Man and His Environment: Law, Nature, Bureaucracy and the Rules of Property; Regulating the Renewing Environment; Energy and Environmental Balance; and Quantitative Groundwater Law, and has also published numerous book chapters and periodical articles. He regularly taught Environmental Law, Natural Resources Law, and Land Use Planning Law.
His scholarship was valued by many for its breadth as well as its depth. He was a courtesy professor of natural resources for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). Recalling his encounters with Professor Murphy, Professor William J. Mitsch of CFAES says, "Early in my career at Ohio State, I had several great discussions with Earl on wetland and land use laws, as well as a host of other topics. He was always a great conversationalist and he sure knew environmental law!"
Professor Murphy also served as a faculty member for the Atmospheric Sciences program and was an adjunct professor for the College of Engineering because of his expertise in urban planning.
He also had an affinity for history. His sister, Carol Kocher, recalls that this interest began very early: "When he got to be about 10 years old he became very interested in books. Our local library used to set history books aside for him. He loved reading about ancient history." His love for history never waned, and after law school he became very interested in the history of the law and its impact on the world.
"When most of the professoriate focused narrowly on law, Earl understood the need to cross cultures, borders, and disciplines in order to offer insights that mattered," recalls Dean Nancy Rogers. "He clearly used his opportunity to engage in scholarship both to learn very broadly and contribute in important ways."
He was a professor whom students loved. In 1991, he was named "Outstanding Professor of the Year." Donald Simon '95, now an environmental lawyer in San Francisco, remembers him fondly. "He was a pioneer in environmental law and literally helped write the book for it. But he always had a door open to his students to help them figure out what to do with themselves, help them with whatever they needed, and inspire them. I considered him a friend and I miss him."
Despite his focus on serious scholarship, Professor Murphy is remembered by many as a very warm, personable, and downright funny man. He was someone you could always rely on for a joke. "We enjoyed his sense of humor and his sarcasm. We just plain liked Earl," says Dean Rogers.
His youngest sister, Roselyn Murphy, was his consistent and tireless traveling partner throughout his life. "When I was 18 and he was 28, we went to Europe with almost no money. We were actually living on $5 a day or less! We spent so much time traveling together. We went everywhere — Greece, Portugal, France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland. In 1998, we went to Turkey to visit the site of a battle our father had fought in during World War I. My parents reared me, but Earl educated me. I would not be the person I am today without him. I miss him so much."
Earl was also a man who loved his wife very deeply. He married Joanne Wharton Murphy '58 in 1972. She taught at the college and served as assistant dean for alumni relations for fourteen years. Shortly before her death on October 20, 1997, former Dean Gregory H. Williams had the opportunity to present her with the college's "Alumna of the Year" award. Earl was deeply affected by the loss of the wife he loved so dearly for 25 years.
A brilliant scholar who contributed much to his field, Earl Finbar Murphy was a dedicated professor who cared about the lives of his students and colleagues. "Earl always had a loyal following. I have met them as I travel to visit alumni around the country," says Dean Rogers. "Some would not have gone into environmental law, for example, except for Earl's inspiration. He influenced hundreds of the lawyers in this country. In the last few days, I have had a number of conversations with persons in tears. Earl was just someone you loved."