Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Walter Murphy

Andrew Koppelman

Walter Murphy, the McCormick Professor of Politics Emeritus at Princeton, has died. Walter was a scholar of astonishing accomplishments, producing important work in empirical political science, political philosophy, constitutional theory, and comparative law. He was also a bestselling novelist: his book The Vicar of Christ is a fun read.

But I want to say a bit about the kind of person he was. Losing him is a hard blow for me. Walter gave me my first academic job, as an assistant professor at Princeton, and he went out of his way to welcome me and my family to town. He was as kind and helpful a senior colleague as one could hope for. But he was more than that. He was warm and funny. My wife and I were having dinner at his house, where he had at least four very large and friendly cats. We mentioned that we had three. He said, “three cats! You must not be very intelligent,” and delivered the line with such a studied deadpan that it took a moment to catch the twinkle in his eye. That kind of self-effacing humor was typical of him. His life was hard in many ways. He spent years devotedly caring for his wife, Terry, after her stroke. But I never heard him complain. Walter was a mensch.

Walter told me he was dying of cancer the last time we talked, perhaps a month ago. He wasn’t then expecting it to carry him off so fast, but the doctors had told him he didn’t have more than two years. I said how sorry I was to hear the news. “You’re sorry!”, he said, delivering the line like the punchline of a joke. I could see him smiling on the other end of the phone. I hope, when the time comes for me to make my exit, that I can pull it off with such remarkable good grace.

Older Posts
Newer Posts