John Murphy Obituary (2023) – Newton, NC

John Russell Murphy, Jr., born October 15, 1951, in Newton, NC was the son of artist/interior designer Ida Lee Murphy and Russ Murphy, who coached defense for the Baltimore Colts and at UNC-Chapel Hill during the Charlie Justice years. Russell was a child prodigy who believed in the power of Zorro. Before he could read, his ABCs began with the letter Z, and he left his mark on his mother’s antiques to prove it. Ida Lee fed Russell’s passion for a well-told story with the Harvard Classics and the World Book, lessons in Latin, and an unending subscription to Sports Illustrated. Russell read everything and his lighting quips and fast returns blazed with that fire.

As one of Washington, D.C. area’s top salesmen in golf, Russell was wedded to his work. In Newton, where he grew up, Russell walked a fine line as the youngest adult and the oldest child in a close-knit extended family. He led with a light touch: funny and sweet, all while helping his father six days a week at the Green Valley golf course, across from the Hickory Speedway. He led his younger cousins, nieces and nephews through a slalom course of confidence rounds, teaching them how to flatten pennies on the railroad track and stroke the putt into the cup across the living room rug; how NOT to slice the ball into the Hickory Speedway; how to mine sand dollars whole at Sunset Beach and savor Carol King’s “Tapestry.” He competed on the golf team at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he enrolled in 1973 to earn a degree in Business. Beyond talent and drive, Russell had the power to see the superhuman quality in each person he knew by heart. He found the precise words to mirror back all that he saw. And that was how he left his mark, with one phrase so bright it banished all doubt, so right you knew he’d just given you a clearer, better view of yourself. Easy to remember, hard to forget, you could take it with you anywhere. His gift helped light the way on a dark day, like a pearl compass you could pocket for treasure for the rest of your life.

Russell earned top-ranking status in sales at Washington Golf and, for the past 14 years, at Golfdom in McLean, VA. There he discovered and helped create a chosen family for all who shared in his passion for golf. The portrait that follows comes from his Golfdom colleagues and friends who shared in Russell’s love of the game.

Every golfer remembers their first Russell Murphy encounter – a quiet man slinking toward you, the tattered marble notebook clenched firmly to his chest, he greets you warmly and quickly inquired about your reasons for playing this fine game.  In staccatoed enthusiasm he exalts the merits of modern equipment and technology over the relics of years past. His soft North Carolina drawl encourages you to, “Get loose, swing a bit and hit some balls” because “We’re in the nation’s best pro-shop” and today is the day you’ll meet a man who’s more passionate about your golf enjoyment than anyone in the world. Diligently listening to your front-nine putter misgivings, he celebrates your unlikely birdie on thirteen with excitement so genuine it was as if he’d witnessed the show firsthand. Miss-hits were met with brilliantly compassionate one-liners of the geopolitical or literary variety, leaving many with a digestible pause, head-shaking smirk and quickly waning vulnerability. Russell Murphy loved golf almost as much as he loved the people this game brought into his life, and we’ll forever cherish the amazing impact our first Russell Murphy encounter had upon our lives.  

Russell is survived by his brother, Charles Coley and wife Pat, cousins Lloyd Coley, Jr. and wife Tamara, Beth Coley Hair and husband David, three nephews, two nieces and their respective families. A memorial service will be held in Newton at Grace Reformed United Church of Christ, spring 2024.

Published by Observer News Enterprise from Dec. 16 to Dec. 30, 2023.