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Matt Murphy practiced a style of politics that's become increasingly rare. The former State Assemblyman and father of Niagara County District Attorney Matt Murphy III died last week.
Matt will be remembered for his significant achievements in the public realm, but his private warmth, wit and charm deserve equal recognition. His devotion to his family and friends transcended any political ambitions.
My earliest memories of Mr. Murphy, as I first knew him, go back to my childhood, when I lived at Packard Court. Matt and my father were both World War II veterans attending Niagara University on the GI Bill. Both men were married to nurses, and they juggled jobs, schools and the demands of young families.
In those days, Packard Court was crowded with people trying to cope in the post-war housing shortage. Nobody had much money, but people used to have fun anyhow.
In the summer months, people would organize parties in the play areas inside the housing complex. A keg of beer and good company provided the perfect mix for the warm camaraderie that developed there.
I just remember Mr. Murphy being a big man, a very big man. He was nice to all the kids and he had a warm laugh.
Now turn the clock ahead about a quarter-century. I was on the Niagara Falls City Council and New York had elected its first Democratic Governor in 16 years, Hugh Carey.
I was an early supporter and the Governor appointed me to his new Task Force on Tourism.
Our Chairman was Roger Tubby, President Harry Truman's former Press Secretary. Roger was active in tourism in the Sarinac and Lake Placid area.
The Task Force quickly concluded that tourism as an important industry was long-neglected, and that much more needed to be done to promote the state of New York as a destination for travelers.
We recommended a dramatic increase in state spending for the promotion of tourism. The Governor and the tourism industry were easily on board, but the problem would be the legislature. Enter newly elected Assemblyman Matt Murphy.
He had just defeated popular incumbent Richard Hogan in a tough race.
Matt picked up the leadership on the tourism issue right away. He was a rare and radical Lockport politician who actually believed Niagara Falls was the most popular and important tourist destination in the county.
Matt was a natural and nurtured politician. He authentically liked people and he learned political skills early from his father, a long-time leader in the Niagara County Democratic party.
Matt quickly grasped the ways of Albany and his affable personality won him many friends on both sides of the political aisle.
Before long, tourism was getting increased attention in the legislature, funds were appropriated and major promotion programs were underway. Assemblyman Murphy chaired the Committee on Tourism, and the big guy from Niagara County had fans and friends across the state for his creative and tireless support of tourism.
Gov. Carey would call Matt the "father of 'I Love New York,'" the catchy television promotion and jingle that New Yorkers and others hummed for years. Tourism grew as an industry and Matt's stature in the legislature did, too.
In those days, politics in Albany seemed to have a greater sense of fun and collegiality than today. Earl Brydges, the late Senate Majority Leader from Niagara County, set the tone for that.
He worked with everyone and his staff adored him. He was brilliant and witty and had a perpetual twinkle in his eye.
He was followed by the late Sen. Lloyd Paterson, who knew everyone by name and if he didn't know you, he knew someone in your family. Lloyd, like Earl Brydges, was a Republican, but he numbered quite a few supporters among Democrats.
John Daly, first as an Assemblyman and later as a Senator, always had time for people and enjoyed a good laugh.
The ringleader of Albany's wits, however, was Richard Hogan. Years after Matt Murphy took his seat, Dick still made frequent trips to Albany, representing Occidental Petroleum at Associated Industries of New York meetings.
Dick got along fine with Matt Murphy, and every time he visited Albany, Matt warmly welcomed him into his office. Dick would always have some story to make Matt laugh, and what a laugh the big guy had.
We'd all go out to dinner now and then, and we'd never miss the annual Legislators' St. Patrick's Day parties that Hogan had founded. Politicians could have fun together in spite of their party differences, and we'd manage to make deals that helped people.
Politics in those days didn't have the meanness and cynicism that takes the joy out of it.
When I think about those days, I'll always member Matthew J. Murphy, Jr., a good and decent man with a warm smile, who always called me "Billy," and never forgot that politics could be something uplifting and noble.
The way Matt practiced it, it was.