Daphne Murray, development director of Houston’s Museum of Natural Science and a close friend of Barbara Bush, has been chosen by President George Bush to become director of the Institute for Museum Services.
An agency that in recent years nearly became as extinct as some of the specimens in natural history museums, Museum Services provides operating grants to a whole range of institutions, from arboretums to zoos.
For the first six years of his Administration, former President Ronald Reagan sought to abolish the agency. Congress, however, resisted these efforts, aided by outcries from the nation’s museum community. In his last budget, Reagan actually called for a slight increase in the agency’s allocation, to $22.4 million. That same amount was recommended by the incoming Bush Administration.
Murray, 48, has been associated with museums in Houston for 28 years. She has served on the boards of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Arts Museum. She had also been a member of the board of the Houston Ballet, as was Mrs. Bush before she came to Washington in 1981, although their terms were not simultaneous.
Reached at her home Wednesday night, Murray noted that although she and Mrs. Bush have been friends for a long time, they did not discuss the Museum Services job.
The White House’s announcement of Bush’s “intention to nominate” Murray was at first barely noticed here, perhaps because Museum Services is so tiny by bureaucratic standards, with a mere $22.3 million budget and only 17 employees, including the current director.
Noting that she will not have been formally nominated until her name and the accompanying documents, including an FBI report, are sent up to Capitol Hill, Murray said she is “very honored by the attempt to nominate.”
Murray would replace Lois Burke Shepard, formerly a Maryland real estate broker, who had been chairwoman of Republicans Abroad working for the 1980 and 1984 Reagan-Bush tickets. Unlike the chairmen of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, who have fixed four-year terms, Shepard, who was appointed in 1986, serves at the pleasure of the President.
Shepard, 51, has already expressed her interest in becoming chairwoman of the arts endowment and maintains she is on the “short list” of prospects for the job. However, her chances are considered unlikely.
Frank Hodsoll, the previous NEA chairman, resigned March 1 to take a top post at the Office of Management and Budget.
Shepard will stay in office until Murray is confirmed by the Senate.
Murray, who is divorced, has three children. She was born into the Wood family that controlled the Sears, Roebuck department store empire. Her grandfather, Robert E. Wood, had been chairman of the board, and her brother, Robert E. Wood II, is a vice president in the firm.
She attended Finch College and the Villa Mercedes at the University of Florence in Italy.
Ed Able, director of the American Assn. of Museums, said: “We are gratified with Ms. Murray’s appointment, especially with her degree of experience in the museum field, both as a trustee and as a staff member. She has been on the inside and has had an opportunity to observe firsthand the considerable issues facing museums today.”
Most of Murray’s experience has been on the board side of museum activities. She has been development director at the Natural Science Museum since 1987. She was secretary of the Fine Arts Museum board from 1982-1984 and vice chairman from 1977-1980.
Until she is confirmed by the Senate, a process that could take several months, Murray declined to discuss what she would do in her new job, but she said she has lots of ideas.
The agency “performs a wonderful service for museums and for museums of all kinds,” she said. “It doesn’t try to make museums a homogeneous group but preserves the integrity of each. Museums should serve the community, and I love museums.”