The impact of Thomas B. Murphy, the former speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, can be felt throughout the state. Now visitors to the University of West Georgia can see a recreation of Murphy’s office, replete with the items his constituents gave him in his 29 years of public service.
The office was officially dedicated April 19 in a ceremony that brought former governors, Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Sonny Perdue, current House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), state Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), and all the living former house speakers to the campus.
The dedication was an opportunity to remember his accomplishments and his leadership. Murphy, a Democrat, was elected to represent a rural area, but his service was to the entire state, UWG president Beheruz N. Sethna, told to a ballroom packed with politicians, friends, family and constituents.
“He cared deeply about the challenges faced in his district and others like it statewide,” Sethna said. “But he also recognized the importance of Georgia’s urban community, especially Atlanta, and worked to ensure that the state could benefit from the catalytic economic benefits that such areas would generate.”
Murphy had a hand in such major projects as the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome and the 1996 Olympics. All of the projects “helped escalate Atlanta’s status as a world-class city,” Sethna said. “But he was equally passionate and energetic in taking care of the folks back home.”
When he left office in 2003, Murphy had served continuously as speaker of a state house longer than any other individual in the nation’s recorded history. At the urging of Mel Steely, UWG professor emeritus of history, Murphy donated his political papers and the memorabilia from his office to the school. University staff sorted through more than 1,500 items in assembling the replica office that was constructed as part of a major renovation of Ingram Library. He died in 2007.
Ralston said shortly after he arrived at the Georgia General Assembly as a state senator he realized Murphy “was a great man. I learned to, first of all, respect him. And, secondly, to appreciate him. And, third, to love him.”
The current house speaker continued: “I learned that he had taken the Georgia House of Representatives from the era when it was beholden to the executive branch and he breathed life into that house and gave it an independence that I think has been good for Georgia.”
Murphy “truly made the house not only a strong legislative chamber, but an equal partner in the governing of Georgia,” Ralston said. “That will be a big part of his legacy. He was a master in the exercise of power. Strong, when necessary. Overpowering, if need be. But compassionate and kind at the core.”
Murphy’s son, Michael L. Murphy, chief judge of the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit of Georgia, gave the closing remarks.
His father “would have reminded us that we must make failures of the past our successes for the future,” the younger Murphy said. “We must run for public office. We must participate in the political system and we must not – cannot be – neutral about America’s future, that it is our obligation not just to criticize, but to also compliment public servants. We cannot, must not, avoid our civic responsibility.”