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PAWTUCKET â Jeanne (Rice) Murphy, who died last Thursday at age 84, had a career unlike almost any other reporter at the old Pawtucket Times.
Murphy first began working for the newspaper as a high school intern back in 1944.
âThe newsroom had been decimated by World War II,â Jeanneâs daughter Sheila recalled. âThe managing editor liked the way my mother wrote and offered her a job.â
Murphy graduated from Pawtucket East High School and took a full-time reporterâs position with the Times, eventually marrying an editor named Jim Murphy, who grew up in Whitinsville, Mass. She left the Times to raise her children, Gregory and Sheila, before returning to the newspaper full-time in 1966.
Murphy covered local news, including the urban renewal project in Pawtucket. She followed the ongoing story for several years.
âThe Annual Meeting was scheduled to be held at the To Kalon Club,â Sheila Murphy said, recounting an anecdote passed down through the years. âWhen members of the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency were planning the meeting, they realized no women were allowed inside the exclusive club. John Q. Calista, executive director of the PRA, said âWe have to have the meeting somewhere else. We canât have the meeting without Jeanne.â And so they moved the meeting.â
Murphy was a trailblazing female reporter in an era when most women working in newsrooms were assigned to write feature stories for the âwomenâs page,â as it was known in those days.
âJeanne was one of the first women in the newsroom who was not specifically assigned to what was then the womenâs page,â said former Times managing editor Arnold Bailey. âShe was an outstanding writer, especially with feature articles. The breadth of her interests and her knowledge allowed her to report with authority on a wide diversity of issues and subjects.
âHer sense of humor often showed through in her writing, and at appropriate times,â Bailey added. âNot a lot of writers are able to make that work but Jeanne could.â
In 1976, Jeanne befriended a young sports reporter named Julie Dalton who would make some history of her own when she was named to succeed sports editor Ted Mulcahey, who died after covering a New England Patriots game in November of 1978.
âThere were now four women in the newsroom,â Dalton recalled. âJeanne was happy to see the number grow. She knew everything about Pawtucket, almost everything about Rhode Island, much about New England, a lot about food and even a little about sports.
âShe offered me a criticism that I tried to take to heart, having no one to truly edit my stories. She suggested once, and only once, that a 44-word lead paragraph seemed excessive.â
Julie eventually moved on to the Boston Globe but she still kept in touch with her friend and mentor.
âJeanne and I remained friends, going out to eat, savoring The China Inn when it was in its humble beginning. We would split the check down to the final penny, no matter my pleas to be allowed to pay, just once!
âJeanne was the matriarch of The Times, though she would never act the part,â Dalton concluded. âJeanne was always there for me, faithful in her friendship, undemanding, cheerful, uncomplaining, savoring a drink and dinner, remembering so much of what most of us forget. She was just doing what a good reporter (and friend) does.â
Sheila Murphy remembers how her motherâs articles resonated with readers.
âI was with her several times when people would see/hear her name (on a check; doing some sort of business transaction) and say âAre you the person who writes those great stories for The Times? I love reading your stories.â For her, that was the measure of success.â
Bailey recalled how the Murphys â Jim and Jeanne â made such a positive impact on the Pawtucket Times.
âJeanne and Jim both had a real sense of what newspapers were all about,â he said. âIt was an exciting time to be working at The Times.â
Jim Murphy retired from The Times in 1978 and passed away in 1997. Jeanne Murphy retired from The Times in 1991, ending a career that began during her senior year in high school and continued until she was 65 years old. The reporters and editors who worked with her during the final decade of her career had the same kind of respect for Murphy that Arnie Bailey and other contemporaries displayed for this gentle woman who always had a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face.
âShe was just the nicest person in the world,â said Bill Oziemblewski, a Pawtucket native who spent 15 years working with Murphy in The Timesâ newsroom. âAnd she was a very good reporter, too.â
Ironically, Jeanneâs brother-in-law, Joseph Murphy of Whitinsville, Mass., passed away less than an hour after Jeanne drew her last breath early last Friday morning.
âMy mother and Joe were great pals,â Sheila Murphy said. âThey were always very fond of each other. Joe taught my mother to drive because she made my father too nervous when she got behind the wheel!â