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In Memoriam: Robert Murray

December 30, 2011

Bob Murray was band director at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Illinois, for thirty years, retiring in 2007. Bob was my “next door neighbor,” the band director at the high school immediately to the east of my own, for over twenty years. A better neighbor I could not have had. Bob passed away last Thursday evening, and last night a beautiful memorial service was held for him in LaGrange.

Bob and I had a lot in common; involvement in Boy Scouting; a love of the trumpet, jazz in general and Maynard Ferguson in particular; and a deep connection with family. Bob was one of the most influential mentors I ever had, and I took his counsel with no reservations. Bob “got it,” as Steve Melillo says, and was a truly outstanding teacher, musician, and husband and father.

He could be intimidating when you didn’t know him. Bob didn’t “suffer fools gladly,” adult fools at least. Early in my years in Illinois my wife and I took our son and his Cub Scout den to a summer day camp in the forest preserve in Palos. I was surprised to see that Bob and his wife Kathy were handling registration at the camp. I knew he and his son Bob Jr. had been involved in scouting, but the younger was in high school at that time. Apparently, knowing that I had an interest in scouting made a difference with Bob. Somehow he decided I was OK, and we got along beautifully. Last night a group of Boy Scouts of the Order of the Arrow held the Broken Arrow service at the memorial. I was proud to be one of the members of OA who was able to join them at the front of the church sanctuary for the service. There were over two dozen OA members in attendance, from high school age to men in  their sixties.

I learned a lot about teaching, working within the Illinois Music Educators Association, and just about being a good person from Bob. I always thought I was a better teacher after I became a father, and Bob demonstrated every day how that was true – he was more of a father to his band students than a “regular teacher.”

He was no saint. He could be angry and frustrated when teaching kids as much as anyone. He challenged his students and was unwilling to accept less than their best. But he also was willing to give a kid a chance who might not otherwise have had one. A couple of the speakers last night spoke about that – his faith in kids who had not proven themselves yet. He gave them the chance to do that, and they succeeded partly because they didn’t want to let Bob down.

Bob could be gruff and cranky, but he was incredibly generous. He served on the school board for one of the elementary districts that fed into LTHS for quite a few years. He somehow balanced family and job, and did so very well. He waited to retire from teaching until his youngest, his daughter Kari, graduated from LT. His kids went through the same school where he taught, as did mine with me, and I know he had just as much fun doing it as I did.

No one knows why God takes us when he does. Bob left us all too soon, at the time when he was enjoying retirement and family. Apparently God’s big band needed a new trumpet player. Maybe He needed a director to sub on the days when He Himself couldn’t be there. (Don’t ask me how to reconcile that with an omnipresent God; I said I don’t know. Maybe he needed someone to direct for Maynard. He’s there too, you know, in the Canadian part of Heaven!) All I know is that Bob is gone, and I miss him, as do thousands of students of his and dozens of colleagues like myself who got to know him over the years. My prayers are with Kathy, his wife, and Bob’s family. I just felt I needed to put down, somewhere, some thoughts about a a great teacher. He was my mentor and my friend. Godspeed, Bob Murray.

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