Retired Sonoma County Judge Joseph P. Murphy, a scholarly and gentle-natured man widely admired for his fair mind and compassionate heart, died Sunday at age 89.
Murphy, who was appointed to the Municipal Court by Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown in 1964 and served most of his 20 years as a judge on the Superior Court, was watching spring training baseball at his longtime Santa Rosa home when he died of heart failure Sunday.
Prior to becoming a judge, the Illinois native and World War II combat veteran worked in private practice in Santa Rosa and served for five years as a deputy district attorney.
Son Stephen Murphy of Aptos said he presided over every type of case, including homicides and other violence. But, he said, "the ones that caused him the most trouble were the ones that involved child custody.
"He would take it upon himself to take walks with the kids around the courthouse" to see how they were doing, Stephen Murphy said.
In his free time and after retiring in 1984, Murphy pursued interests that included baseball, his Catholic faith, endeavors of the Sonoma County Library Commission, Democratic Party politics and his and his wife Marian's eight children and 19 grandchildren.
"He had a huge intellect," said his daugher Cathy Murphy of Ben Lomond. "He loved Eric Clapton, and Elton John. He also knew the name of every single small town."
She added, "Of course, he was 100 percent Irish."
Joseph Patrick Murphy Jr. was born in Oak Park, Ill., in 1922 and following graduation from high school enrolled at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts. World War II was on when he enlisted in the Marines.
Cathy Murphy said that surviving the assault on Iwo Jima but losing friends in that and other battles gave her father "a different respect for life and an appreciation for every day."
After the war, Murphy studied law the University of Michigan, then moved west and began his career as an attorney in Santa Rosa in 1949.
Murphy met a nurse named Marian Schwedhelm in 1953. They married the following year at St. Eugene's Cathedral.
Murphy had been practicing law with firms and as a deputy district attorney for 15 years when Gov. Brown appointed him to a vacancy on the Municipal Court.
In 1966, Brown elevated him to the Superior Court. He was elected to the Superior Court bench three times.
At his retirement party in 1984, seasoned attorneys called him "the embodiment of what a judge should be" and "the total personification of what lawyers think of as a judge's qualities."
Once he took off the robe for good, Murphy immersed himself in his work on the library commission and the Gray Foundation, and in the Democratic Party. As the U.S. moved closer to attacking Iraq early in 1991, the retired judge took to the streets of downtown Santa Rosa as a sponsor of an anti-war demonstration that drew thousands.
Murhy was diagnosed with terminal congestive heart failure only about a month ago.
It was fitting that he was watching baseball on TV when he died. As a kid in Illinois he'd been a Cubs faithful and an avid collector of baseball cards and autographs — including a ball signed by Babe Ruth.