Franklin D. Murphy, the doctor, educator, administrator and business executive who helped lift Los Angeles onto the cultural, artistic and educational world stage through his uncanny ability to weave together people, projects and the means to pay for them, died Thursday. He was 78.
Murphy, who came to Los Angeles in 1960 as chancellor of UCLA and immediately declared himself "deeply involved" in his new community, had suffered from cancer.
Heading UCLA through the turbulent 1960s, Murphy forced the decentralization of the University of California and made the Westwood campus an equal partner to Berkeley. He went on to be chairman and chief executive officer of Times Mirror Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times, from 1968 through 1980, a period in which earnings and revenue quadrupled. He served with distinction on the boards of four multinational commercial powers--BankAmerica Corp., Ford Motor Co., Hallmark Cards Inc. and Norton Simon Inc.
Dubbed the quintessential Renaissance man by his contemporaries, Murphy indefatigably pursued a parallel career promoting his twin passions of art and rare books. Unusual for a man of comparatively modest means, he simultaneously became a major player in international philanthropy. Murphy was board chairman of the National Gallery of Art, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he helped to create, and was an influential trustee of the J. Paul Getty Trust. He also chaired the President's Biomedical Research Panel, the American Council on Education and the Council on Higher Education in the American Republics.
He saw Los Angeles as "well on its way to manifest destiny as one of the great and vital cities of the world" and set out to make sure it got there. Through his administrative efforts in offices and board rooms or behind the scenes, the pragmatic Missourian prodded his adopted community toward greatness.
"He did for the city the same thing he did for UCLA," said Robert H. Ahmanson, president of the Ahmanson Foundation on whose board Murphy served for many years. "He raised it from second-rate to first-rate, and that is the goal he always worked toward."
Part of what Murphy did for both the university and the city, said Charles E. Young, who followed Murphy as UCLA chancellor, was simply to instill a sense of self-worth, energizing both to raise funds, recruit leaders and build new centers of learning and culture.
"During the last 25 to 30 years," said Young, "Franklin Murphy is probably the most seminal person across the board in terms of the growth and development of the Los Angeles community into a world leader."
How Murphy accomplished that, his contemporaries observe, was to know seemingly everything and everybody, know what needed to be done and then gracefully blend components to further his humanistic vision.
"He had a rare gift of knowing who should know whom and getting them together," said Robert Skotheim, president of the Huntington Library, who regularly sought Murphy's advice about personnel and acquisitions. "The strategy or the purpose for that was unquestionably his intellectual curiosity about how things work and his motivation to be an actor. Despite the fact that the world would have regarded him as an academic administrator until his 50s, he had a very great activist impulse to cause things to happen.
"So many times you find Franklin's invisible hand in the process," Skotheim said. "He was just unique in being involved as a mastermind, a planner, a helper behind the scenes. I can't think of anybody who did not have great personal wealth who has had a comparable philanthropic impact on educational and cultural institutions."
That hand of the veteran board member, for instance, was credited for moving Rusty Powell from head of the Los Angeles County Art Museum to direct the National Gallery of Art; for guiding Harold Williams from Norton Simon Inc. to the UCLA Graduate School of Business and, after a stint chairing the Securities and Exchange Commission, to head the prestigious J. Paul Getty Trust; for mentoring and leading his own assistant, Young, to replace him at UCLA and Robert F. Erburu ultimately to follow him at Times Mirror, and for persuading Ahmanson to dispense gifts from the foundation of his wealthy late uncle, Howard F. Ahmanson.
"That is a part of his genius. He knew the right man for the right place," said Ahmanson, whose family foundation hands out more than $20 million a year for education, art, medical and other human services in Southern California. "In 1968 when Howard died, we were in need of a chairman, and Franklin was the one who said, 'You should do it.' I hadn't even considered it, and it has been the best thing that ever happened to me."
In another example of Murphy's fortuitous matchmaking, he decided that prestigious Notre Dame University's new library needed microfilm copies of the unique Ambrosian Collection of early Italian manuscripts housed in Milan, Italy. Murphy found the necessary million dollars of foundation money and got the manuscripts copied, recalled Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame, with amusement and admiration for his old friend and contemporary educator.
The accomplishment did more than further Murphy's own interest in preserving early Italian printing. When the Milan library closed for several years for major renovation, Hesburgh said, Notre Dame became the world's only source of the precious material, and, incidentally, helped Interpol unmask a counterfeit manuscript offered to Sotheby's for sale.
"Franklin ought to get credit for that," said Hesburgh, who also joined the Council on Higher Education in the American Republics only because Murphy convinced reluctant South American educators that Catholic countries needed at least one Catholic leader in the group.
Closer to home, Murphy also helped the Ahmanson Foundation establish the Ahmanson-Murphy Aldine Collection of about 800 volumes of precious 15th- and 16th-Century books at UCLA.
Renaissance scholars from around the world are sharing Aldine papers this week in Italy at the International Conference in Honor of Dr. Franklin Murphy. More than 50 participants, who were unaware of his death, sent a letter that arrived in Murphy's office Thursday, stating: "All of us regret your absence from this event in your honor, and we send you warmest greetings and all our very best wishes."
Murphy created what was ultimately named the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA, because he noticed a flat, barren area of campus and through his connections learned that a collector of contemporary sculpture might donate the works to a worthy recipient.
"It didn't take him long to put two or three people together to achieve a gift to UCLA of 50 to 70 sculptures. And his attitude was that these pieces should go out into the landscape environment to be a central hub where students could meditate," said Lee Walcott, managing director of the Ahmanson Foundation. "Today it's a wonderful, tranquil spot on campus. . . . It is a wonderful living tribute to him."
Immersed in promoting art and rare books and education, the doctor's son never forgot his own medical training. Murphy himself proved to be the right man in the right place, said A.W. Clausen, former president and chief executive officer of BankAmerica Corp. and president of the World Bank, when Bank of America board Chairman Chauncey Medberry collapsed at a shareholders' meeting in San Francisco. Board member Murphy was quickly out of his chair, Clausen said, loosening Medberry's collar and pounding on his chest.
Colleagues attribute Murphy's ability to accomplish so much to such qualities as his extraordinary intellect, knowledge, judgment, instantaneous decision-making, taste, sensitivity, availability, enthusiasm, vision and outstanding people skills, adding up to a special wisdom.
Otis Chandler, who succeeded Murphy as chairman of the board of Times Mirror, said Murphy's greatest contribution "has been that he has recognized and developed the talents of the people who operate this company and its major divisions." He said Murphy recognized that it was best "to encourage them, to provide counsel to them, but not interfere with their day-to-day operations. That I define as superb wisdom."
Despite his own respected eye for art, Murphy typically left acquisitions of paintings and other objects to curators. "In all the museums that I have been involved with," he told a British art magazine in 1991, "one thing that I have always fought for is that the final decision be with the professional."
Assessing how an educator interested in art became so valuable to business, Clausen noted: "The most serious problem in most business is people." Because he was so adept at evaluating and dealing with people, Clausen said, Murphy became one of the bank's all-time best directors and a valuable adviser to him.
"He had an enormous amount of good common sense. He had his feet very firmly on the ground. He was very practical and pragmatic on business issues, government issues, or even social issues," said Clausen, "and that meant he was very wise."
"One reason he was asked to do so many things was he was not egocentric," said Roger Heyns, who was chancellor at UC Berkeley during the turbulent 1960s when Murphy was chancellor at UCLA. "He was there for the activity or event and that made people trust him. And he was a peppy person. Conversation with him was fun ."
Clausen said Murphy was also totally devoid of arrogance or braggadocio and had an inoffensive manner in stating his own (usually right) ideas and deflecting wrong ones, adding with a chuckle: "There was no barbed wire or rusty glass in his comments."
Franklin David Murphy was born in Kansas City, Mo., the son of a physician, Dr. Franklin E. Murphy, and a concert pianist, Cordelia Brown Murphy. A straight-A student who quarterbacked his high school football team, Murphy attributed his love of books to his bibliophile father and his love of art to an aunt who was a painter in Paris at the turn of the century.
He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Kansas in 1936, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, spent a year on an exchange fellowship at the University of Goettingen in Germany and earned his M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1941.
Toward the end of World War II, Murphy joined the Army and worked on research into malaria and other tropical diseases, earning the rank of captain and a citation and commendation ribbon.
Returning to his native Kansas City to set up a medical practice, he taught part-time at the nearby University of Kansas School of Medicine. He became dean of the school in 1948, when he was only 32, and was soon named by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of America's 10 outstanding young men.
Three years later, Murphy was named chancellor of the university. He was so popular that when he agreed to leave for Westwood in 1960, students burned the Kansas governor in effigy for allegedly driving Murphy out, chanting, "We want Murphy!"
In his inaugural address at UCLA, Murphy promised to lead the school to "major scholarly distinction in worldwide terms." To achieve less, he said, "would represent unimaginable lack of vision and inexcusable timidity."
During his tenure, UCLA added about 40 new buildings, increased its student body from 20,000 to 30,000, and weathered one of the most politically tumultuous periods for all universities. Although UCLA never saw the student unrest over Vietnam that erupted at Berkeley, Murphy still had to contend with the developing free speech movement. He did it by drawing students into an "advising process" while making clear that he would make the final policy decisions.
When 150 students staged a sit-in outside his office in 1967 to protest his refusal to halt on-campus job interviews by Dow Chemical Co., manufacturer of napalm, Murphy said:
"I do not believe the technique of the dialogue has failed. There has been a momentary break as a result of the passions brought about by the war, but we will not have chronic disorder on this campus. The faculty will not tolerate it and most of the students won't either."
Murphy himself had championed freedom of speech as a student at the University of Kansas, arranging for controversial speakers, including a sociologist who discussed trial marriage--much to the consternation of Murphy's mother.
While calming and building UCLA, Murphy reached into the community to help create Los Angeles County's Museum of Art and Music Center and into the nation to help the Kress Foundation place art in the National Gallery and elsewhere. He earned such respect in artistic circles that Paul Mellon personally asked him to join the National Gallery board and tapped Murphy as his successor as chairman.
Throughout his two decades at the University of Kansas and UCLA and more than two decades at Times Mirror (12 years as chairman and chief executive officer, six as chairman of the board's executive committee and several as director emeritus), Murphy plied his matchmaking talents in a variety of other organizations not previously mentioned.
He served on the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Study Committee on Federal Aid to Public Health of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange, the State Universities Assn., the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Federal Commission on Government Security, the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs to the Department of State, the Peace Corps National Advisory Council, and the Special Medical Advisory Group of the Veterans Administration.
He worked on the board of consultants of the National War College and the board of visitors to the U.S. Air Force's Air University, the Medical Advisory Commission of the American Legion, the Council on Medical Education and Hospitals of the AMA, the American Council on Education's Committees on Institutional Research Policy and on Problems and Policies, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Presidential Task Forces on both the Arts and the Humanities and on Private Sector Initiatives, the Urban Institute, the board of governors of the American Red Cross and the national council of the Boy Scouts of America.
He also served as a trustee of the California Museum of Science and Industry, the Institute of International Education, the University of Pennsylvania, the Salk Institute, the Eisenhower Exchange Scholarship Program and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Those efforts garnered Murphy 17 honorary doctorates; awards from Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, France and Spain; such varied honors as the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, the UCLA Medal, and the Andrew W. Mellon Medal of the National Gallery of Art, and designation as a fellow in the American Assn. for the Advance of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society of Arts.
"Franklin," a Times colleague once said to him, "you are a walking interlocking directorate."
"That," said Murphy with a twinkle in his eye, "is how I get things done."
"Franklin Murphy is irreplaceable," said Erburu, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Times Mirror Co. "We will miss him terribly."
Murphy is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, the former Judith Joyce Harris of Beverly Hills; four children, Joyce Dickey, Martha Crockwell, Carolyn Speer, and Dr. Franklin Lee Murphy, and one sister, Cordelia M. Ennis.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the UCLA Research Library Special Collections Department for the Ahmanson-Murphy Aldine Collection.
* AN APPRECIATION: Franklin D. Murphy was a man who made things happen, writes art critic William Wilson. F1