Joanne B. Murphy: Writer ‘much ahead of her time’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

From her long editing and writing career to the numerous civic groups and causes she supported, Joanne Murphy juggled multiple roles reflecting her diverse interests.

“She was a whirlwind,” said her son, Mike Murphy. “She was a very passionate person. She was a striver and she didn’t believe in glass ceilings from day one.”

Mrs. Murphy died Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak after a recent stroke. She was 79.

Decades were dedicated to working as a freelance writer and editor. Besides authoring reports, profiles, brochures and marketing materials, she wrote feature articles for publications including the Detroit Monthly magazine, Caribbean Beat and the Buffalo News, according to her resume.

For more than 20 years, Mrs. Murphy was a public relations consultant with the Detroit Artists Market, the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and other groups, according to her resume.

“Organizations would seek out Joanne Murphy because they knew she was an excellent writer,” said Marilyn Wheaton, a longtime friend. “She just had a gift for knowing how to get to the meat of the issue very quickly.”

By the early 1990s, Mrs. Murphy and her husband relocated to Washington, D.C., where she remained involved in writing, editing, print production supervision as well as marketing, relatives said.

She also extended her commitment to civic-based efforts — joining a United Way arm as well as the All Hallows Guild at Washington National Cathedral, her husband said.

“She was one of the most intrepid women I’ve really ever known,” Wheaton said. “She really believed deeply in causes.”

Born Joanne Becker, she grew up on Detroit’s east side and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism/English from Michigan State University as well as a master’s in humanities from Wayne State University, according to her resume.

Between the late 1950s and early 1960s, she worked in communications at WBZ-TV in Boston and the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit, relatives said.

In 1961, she married Joseph Murphy Jr.

While raising their family, Mrs. Murphy remained active in local causes — including a group influential in helping net civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit at Grosse Pointe South High School in the late 1960s, her husband said. “She was very determined... a woman much before her time. She was quite unique.”

Mrs. Murphy and her husband several years ago returned to Metro Detroit — “where her heart has always been,” Wheaton said.

She drew on that love, plus extensive research, to pen an unpublished mystery novel that incorporated local history, Mike Murphy said. “She knew the city to a block level, almost. She worked in a lot of the neighborhoods as a volunteer. ... She was very dedicated to Detroit.”

In recent years, Mrs. Murphy read frequently, remained abreast of current events, and was technologically savvy enough to connect with her grandchildren on Skype, her son said. “She was future-oriented — a forward looker.”

Besides her son and husband, other survivors include another child, Joseph, and three grandchildren, Jack, Margo and Audrey.

A memorial service is planned later this year.