Longtime Affordable Housing Advocate Bob Murray Dies

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 09/06/13

Starting in the summer of 1993, Robert H. Murray, step by step, walked from one end of Cape Cod to the other.

Mr. Murray became synonymous with the walk and the walk became synonymous with him. There were years when blisters formed on his feet, forcing him to cut short the 104-mile trek. In 2005 he was rushed to the hospital for dehydration. Although his doctor told him he should never do the walk again, the next year he ignored their advice, partially, and decided to walk from Provincetown to Falmouth, completing 60 miles of the 104-mile July jaunt, electing only to do a portion of each leg.

Last year on the 20th anniversary of the event it was renamed the Bob Murray Housing With Love Walk in his honor. Because of health issues he did not walk, but by that point he had already done his part, helping to raise over $3.6 million and walking over 2,000 miles in the previous campaigns with the proceeds going to prevent homelessness throughout the Cape.

Those who knew Mr. Murray best will say that these numbers only begin to tell the story of a man who died yesterday morning at the age of 73 and who was dedicated to helping residents obtain the basic necessities of life in food and housing.

His imprint can be found throughout Falmouth, from the service center on Gifford Street to affordable housing units built at nearby 587 and 651 Gifford Street. Commercial space that is combined with 58 affordable apartments at 704 Main Street, completed in 2006, has Mr. Murray’s signature on it as do the 39-unit Schoolhouse Green Apartments that were added to the town’s affordable housing inventory in 2011.

He didn’t take no for an answer and if he believed in something he would see it through no matter what the obstacle.

                                               Thomas Lacey

“These are all places Bob put together with very creative dollars from a bunch of different places,” said Karen M. Cardeira, director of Falmouth Human Services. “I’m not sure Falmouth would have these places if it weren’t for Bob.”

Mr. Murray came to Falmouth in 1993 when he was hired as the executive director of the Falmouth Housing Authority, having previously served as the grant writer for the Housing Assistance Corporation. He was also instrumental in bringing The Family Pantry to Harwich, where he worked as its president.

Over a 15-year-period Mr. Murray worked at the housing authority before stepping down. He was succeeded by Thomas L. Lacey, who credited Mr. Murray with acting as a mentor to him.

Steadfast Resolve

His first interaction with Mr. Murray was when he interviewed for a job as treasurer with the housing authority 11 years ago.

During that time, Mr. Lacey said he found Mr. Murray to be “a really hard worker with a real infectious will for getting things accomplished. He didn’t take no for an answer and if he believed in something he would see it through no matter what the obstacle.”

That has benefited the Cape, particularly in terms of affordable housing although Mr. Lacey noted his contributions extended beyond that to both the Falmouth Service Center, the town’s food pantry, as well as the Fairwinds Clubhouse, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting local people living with mental illnesses. He was on the boards of both nonprofits and has been credited with finding a permanent home for the service center on Gifford Street in 2002, along with one for the Peter D. Kirwin Fairwinds Center on Katharine Lee Bates Road in 2011.

As to why these types of projects were important to Mr. Murray, Mr. Lacey said, “I think the motivation was essentially to address people’s basic needs that were not being met, in terms of housing and food, that many people take for granted. His desire came from helping people who are the most vulnerable in our community.”

His death, Mr. Lacey said, leaves a huge void on the Cape to address those most basic human service needs. “He was always adamant that this doesn’t stop with him,” he said.

In addition to his work with the housing authority, Mr. Murray founded the Falmouth Housing Corporation in 1997 with the intention to increase rental housing for low-income residents. His first project was to help secure funding for the creation of the Longshank affordable housing development in Hatchville now known as Esker Place.

It is just one example of Mr. Murray’s ability “to get things done,” said Patti B. Haney of the housing authority. “Bob would see a need and make sure it got filled.”

Saw Need for Affordable Housing

Among the biggest needs that he saw, she said, was “that everyone deserved the right to have a safe place to live.”

The housing walk he did annually was used to help draw exposure to that need. “It was really about getting the message out there, especially in the summer when a lot of people don’t realize the poverty on the Cape for year-round people,” she said.

In 2011 he was recognized for his efforts by the Falmouth Housing Trust, which honored him with the third annual Bruce Espey Community Service Award.

Since that time Bob really took me under his wings. Every week he told me I was doing a good job. I think he did that because he knew I missed my dad and we were more than just colleagues.

                                               Brenda Swain

Mr. Murray’s work was not done for any sort of acclaim. Instead it was done simply to help his fellow man. “He had a very strong spiritual sense about him. It wasn’t religious, but it was just spiritual about the goodness of people and the goodness of the community,” Ms. Cardeira said.

When Brenda B. Swain, director of the Falmouth Service Center, first met Mr. Murray, she admitted it was difficult to see that from his gruff exterior. “He scared the heck out of me,” she laughed, sharing one anecdote from the summer of 2002, roughly six months after she was hired, when the pair was working on the community gardens at the service center. “He’s working in the gardens when he comes stalking over to me and said, ‘We have to get rid of all these weeds.’ I told him, ‘It is a garden. Vegetables grow in gardens and so do weeds. We’ll do the best we can.’... He saw all sides of an issue to a problem, but at first he could be very intimidating if you didn’t know him well.”

Slowly, though, the two developed a friendship to the point that, in 2008, when a contingent from the service center went up to Boston after it was named Partner of the Year from the Greater Boston Food Bank, Ms. Swain’s parents drove up with Mr. Murray. “My dad really liked Bob and four days after that my dad had a massive stroke and eventually died,” Ms. Swain said. “Since that time Bob really took me under his wings. Every week he told me I was doing a good job. I think he did that because he knew I missed my dad and we were more than just colleagues.”

“It wasn’t just me—that was the type of thing that happened for hundreds if not thousands,” she continued. “So many lives would have been lost without his intervention. He made such a difference to individuals and families. So many people will never know all those specific situations, but I was blessed to see how he helped people pick up the pieces and get their lives back together.”

Mr. Murray, who lived in Cotuit, is survived by his wife, Judy, of 26 years and their four children. A full obituary will be in Tuesday’s newspaper.

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