Sarah E. 'Sally' Murphy

Longtime city government worker and IND alumna was first female grand marshal of St. Patrick's Day parade

December 11, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Sarah E. "Sally" Murphy, the first woman to serve as grand marshal of Baltimore's St. Patrick's Day parade and a retired city government worker, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at ManorCare in Ruxton. The Rodgers Forge resident was 77.

"She was one of the greatest workers at City Hall," said former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III. "She practically ran her department and was its main cog."

Miss Murphy was born in Baltimore and raised on Cecil Avenue. She was the daughter of Jerome Murphy, a Hynson, Wescott and Dunning pharmacist. She attended St. Ann's School and was a 1951 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame, where she later returned as a five-day-a-week volunteer.

Immediately after high school, she joined what was then called the Bureau of Sanitation, working a clerk in a department headed by William Fannon. In her 44 years in city government, she moved with her agency and worked in the Municipal, Calvert and American buildings, as well as in City Hall. Friends said she was one of the best-known employees in city government.

"For decades, she was an institution in Baltimore's government and a fabulous person," the former mayor said.

Friends and family recalled her as a neatly and stylishly dressed woman who adhered to old-fashioned Baltimore customs. She changed her curtains and rugs for the summer and winter. She also used canvas shade awnings in the summer months and installed slipcovers during warm weather. If she was serving a meal outdoors, she used Lenox china and Waterford crystal. She wore hats and gloves.

They also said she was a highly skilled organizer who liked socializing and serving a homemade meal to her committee members.

"She could not tolerate shortcuts. It had to be done right," said Nancy Perrin, a friend who lives in Towson. "She could push people to their dissatisfaction, but she believed in high standards."

She was also active in Irish-American organizations and was both state and national president of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. She played leadership roles in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

"I remember her as a beautiful young woman at all the Irish affairs. Everyone wondered who would be the lucky one to marry her. She never married, but she became very influential in Irish circles and charities," said retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward, a friend who lives in Bolton Hill. "She gave the invitations for the reviewing stand at the St. Patrick's Day parade. And more importantly, she decided where the officials could park their cars — legally."

Judge Ward recalled her arrival for the 2002 opening of the Irish Shrine on Lemmon Street in Southwest Baltimore.

"She was perfectly dressed and pulled up in a spotless black car," he said. "She had persuaded some nursery owner to lend pots of flowers and plants for the day. She had that ability with people. She wanted everything to look perfect. At the end of the day, she reloaded her car and returned the plants."

In 1999 she became the first female grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day parade.

"She never liked green beer or anything like that," said Carol Lindsay, a friend and former parade committee secretary who lives in Rosedale. "She felt the parade was a top-notch affair. She preferred when men's groups marched in top hats and tails. When she selected a marching band, it had better be good."

On the day of the event, Miss Murphy was ready with corsages or boutonnieres for those on the reviewing stand. She habitually wore dress shoes and did not favor slacks.

"Her other love was her alma mater, the Institute of Notre Dame," said a cousin, Raymond "Chip" Gercke of Bel Air.

After leaving city government, she became a volunteer at the Aisquith Street school and served on its board for eight years.

"She exemplified the IND spirit and was a constant volunteer," said Sister Kathleen Feeley, the school's president. "She exuded happiness and charm."

Sister Kathleen said Miss Murphy organized numerous phone fundraising nights for which she prepared suppers.

"She really knew who she was, and her three priorities were God, the Irish and IND," said Sister Kathleen.

She often entertained at her family home and held an annual Epiphany party. She was also an Orioles fan.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, 6432 York Road.

Survivors include numerous other cousins, including Jerome Murphy of Fallston, Michael Foley of Bel Air, Robert Foley of Parkville and John Foley of Shrewsbury, Pa.

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