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Former Dean Murdy leaves handprint at Oxford

Former Oxford College of Emory University Dean Bill Murdy died March 19 after his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. (Special photo)

Former Oxford College of Emory University Dean Bill Murdy died March 19 after his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. (Special photo)

OXFORD — A man who left a memorable stamp as the dean of Oxford College died March 19 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. William H. Murdy, 85, served as a professor of biology at Emory University for 40 years and retired in 1999 after serving as dean of Oxford College. Once he retired from the educational realm, he took a seat on the Oxford City Council and served two years as mayor.

Former Oxford council member Virgil Eady said it was unusual for someone to make such a great civic impact as well as being an educational influence.

“He was an excellent dean and carried the city of Oxford forward during his tenure,” Eady said. “The new City Hall was built along with many other advancements. I can tell you he was definitely a great leader.”

As a native of Fairhaven, Mass., Murdy desired to be a farmer. He went on to graduate from Bristol County School of Agriculture then served four years in the Army.

Murdy’s farming education continued, and he received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1956 and a doctorate in botany from Washington University in 1959.

After his doctorate, Murdy started his stint at Emory as chairman of the biology department. He served as president of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi and the University Senate. In 1987, Murdy was appointed Charles Howard Candler Professor of Biology and received Emory’s Thomas Jefferson award for distinguished service to the university in 1990.

Over the years, he taught a variety of courses dealing primarily with plants, and authored numerous papers on plant systematics, evolution, biodiversity, air pollution and environmental ethics. He focused on improving facility maintenance, faculty salaries and student life at Oxford College.

Current Oxford College Dean Stephen Bowen said Murdy had a great impact that helped the college mature.

“I think most people would say that he guided the college very wisely. He was good at building relationships with the Oxford and Atlanta campuses,” Bowen said. “During his tenure, he increased support for faculty research and scholarship. He strengthen the admissions so enrollment grew, and after retirement, he continued leadership by serving as mayor. I think I came to appreciate his calmness and long view and will take that with me.”

For the last 12 years of his tenure at Emory, he served as dean of Oxford College of Emory University in Oxford, where he lived.

Bill McKibben, Oxford College professor of mathematics emeritus, said in a release on Oxford College’s website, “During (my service as academic dean) I came to marvel at his many fine qualities: personal, moral and intellectual … His character and judgment were beyond compare. The patience, integrity and equanimity he showed in working with faculty and staff stand out in my memory as a hallmark of his administration … He was an optimist of the first order, and he was inspiring in his own characteristic unassuming way. I am grateful to have worked with a man of such great heart and mind.”

In the 1990s, Murdy was appointed by then-Gov. Zell Miller to the state’s Preservation 2000 Program advisory committee. Murdy served on the board of trustees of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, as a trustee of the Nature Conservancy of Georgia, as a member of the Oxford College Board of Counselors and the Covington Kiwanis Club.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Old Church in Oxford, located at the intersection of Wesley and Fletcher streets.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Bill and Nancy Murdy Scholarship Fund, Oxford College, Oxford Georgia, 30054 or the Nature Conservancy of Georgia, 1330 West Peachtree St., Suite 410, Atlanta, Georgia 30309.

Murdy is survived by his wife of 61 years, Nancy Wardick Murdy; his son, William H. Murdy III (Miriam) of Brunswick; his daughter, Martha J. Orlando (Danny) of Kennesaw; four grandchildren, Daniel Warren Gordy, Sarah Jane Gordy Kennedy, Rebecca Grace Murdy, Patrick Jefferson Murdy, a great-granddaughter, Virginia Rose Kennedy; and several nieces and nephews.