The Washington Post

Jim Murray, D.C. police force recruiter who later became a priest, has died

Jim Murray, 85, who as a top civilian official in the D.C. police department led a minority recruitment drive that diversified the force after the rioting that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died Oct. 31 at St. Bede Academy, a monastery in Illinois .

Mr. Murray had lived there for more than two decades, since undergoing a spiritual awakening that led him to become a Benedictine monk and an ordained Roman Catholic priest. He had cancer, said his son, Matt Murray, a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal and the author of a 1999 memoir about his father, “The Father and the Son.”

D.C. police Chief Jerry V. Wilson hired Mr. Murray from the D.C. sanitation department’s personnel office in 1969, a year after the King assassination. Racial tensions were at their peak in the District and the nation. Two presidents had made a national issue of the District’s surging crime rate.

Local leaders recognized that one way to defuse tensions would be to make the police department more representative of the city’s population.

Mr. Murray “tried to get the department into the future,” said Isaac Fulwood Jr., who was one of the few African Americans officers at the time and who later became police chief, serving from 1989 to 1992.

“In a Southern department,” Fulwood said, “Jim Murray was one of those people who were saying, ‘You must change.’ ”

Although Mr. Murray had never been a police officer, Wilson hired him and soon promoted him to assistant chief. The high rank reflected the importance of Mr. Murray’s assignment: to sharply increase the number of officers and the proportion of minorities.

In addition to unleashing a glitzy advertising campaign, Mr. Murray sent recruiters to parts of the country with high unemployment rates and to military installations worldwide.

The drive added nearly 2,000 people to the force, raising its ranks to more than 5,000. Besides minorities, Mr. Murray hired Ivy League graduates and women. He helped female officers gain full police responsibilities instead of limited duties related to matters involving women and children.

The department still had many problems. Turnover was high. Crime was up, and racial tensions persisted. Even with Mr. Murray’s efforts, the department remained disproportionately white. But he was credited with leaving a much larger department and with adding 842 black officers to the force.

The year after Mr. Murray left for a job with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, his wife died of breast cancer. He did his best to continue working and finish raising his children, but he spoke of feeling “a lack of depth” in his life, his son wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

The day after he retired in 1979, he began to attend Mass daily, a sign of a transformation in his approach to Catholicism. Among the signs of that change, his son wrote, were the tears that streamed down his face during the church service.

Always a reader, he exchanged his old books for works on the lives of saints. One by one, he sold his possessions, including his home in Bethesda, and began to live like a “suburban mendicant,” his son wrote.

In 1985, he moved to St. Bede, where he took the vows that made him first a monk and then a priest.

“I just abandoned myself to God,” he told his son.

James Michael Murray was born Oct. 27, 1926, in Schenectady, N.Y. He grew up in a family that struggled in the Depression, and as he told The Washington Post in 1971, he “deeply resented” the clerks and doctors who treated them “as nonhuman beings.”

He was an Army personnel clerk in Europe at the end of World War II. After graduating from Union College in Schenectady in 1950, he moved to New York to be a writer. There, at an evening literature class, he met Michele Freedman. They married in 1955.

Survivors include four children, David Murray of St. Louis, Jonathan Murray of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Sarah Murray of Alameda, Calif., and Matt Murray of the Bronx; and four grandchildren.

In a telephone interview from the monastery weeks before his death, Mr. Murray said he saw a theme in his life. It ran from his boyhood to his personnel management work, and, finally, to his time at St. Bede. Abbot Philip Davey, the monastery’s leader, said more than 60 people regularly visited him there for spiritual guidance.

“I was a poor boy growing up,” said Mr. Murray, who was known as Father James. “People . . . looked right through, like you didn’t exist. I really vowed never to do that. I never treated people as if they didn’t exist.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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