In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus James J. "Jerry" Murphy

It is with sorrow that we report the passing of Professor Emeritus and former Department Chair James J. "Jerry" Murphy.

Jerry Murphy addressing a class

Our colleague Dr. James J. Murphy, (Ph.D., Stanford University, 1957), Professor Emeritus at UC Davis, passed away on Christmas Eve, 2021, at the age of 98. He remained alert and intellectually engaged until just a few days before his death.  His final publication, The Oxford Handbook of Quintilian, which he co-edited, arrived exactly one week before he died.

Dr. Murphy spent his career studying the history and pedagogy of language use, with scholarly work exploring rhetoricians from the Classical Period, the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, and on to modernity. His work extended to the pedagogy of teaching rhetoric, writing, and debate, including texts that have been published in numerous editions and multiple languages including Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and Polish. Before settling at UC Davis in 1965, he taught at St. Mary’s College, Stanford, and Princeton. During his career, he published 75 journal articles and book chapters and edited numerous volumes.

Dr. Murphy was a highly respected and decorated scholar. He received the Speech Communication Association Book Award in 1975, and was a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, a Distinguished Scholar in the National Communication Association, a Fellow of the Rhetoric Society of America, and Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Palmes Academiques, or Knight of the Order of Academic Palms (France). Dr. Murphy was also awarded the Papal medal Benemerenti.

Dr. Murphy was also a noteworthy leader in the discipline. In addition to serving as in various leadership roles in NCA, he was one of the four founders of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, and the founding editor of its journal, Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric.

Jerry also founded the Department of Rhetoric at UC Davis—the department that would eventually evolve to become the Department of Communication. After founding the department, Dr. Murphy was its chair for many years. He was an important voice as the department expanded the scope of its scholarship, welcoming the hiring of social scientists as well as humanists.

In 2019, Dr. Murphy met with many of the professors in the Department of Communication. He was, as always, gracious and kind. Jerry was described by Dr. Don Abbott, a colleague from the Department of Rhetoric days, as "a profoundly kind man." He was a mentor and friend to many young scholars across the U.S. and Europe.

We mourn Dr. Murphy’s passing, but we celebrate a long, productive, and well-lived life.