Sen. Nancy Murphy, shown in 1990 (George Cook, Baltimore…)
Nancy Lee Murphy, a veteran Baltimore County Democratic legislator who served in Maryland's House of Delegates and Senate, died Dec. 30 of a heart attack at St. Agnes Hospital the day before her 82nd birthday.
"It was certainly sad news to end the year with for the friends who knew Nancy. She was such a great family person," said former Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann, who had served with Ms. Murphy in the House of Delegates during the 1980s and remained a close friend.
"During all her years in public life, she served her constituents well. She also had a great sense of humor," recalled Ms. Rehrmann.
"I remember when we were serving on a subcommittee how she used humor to get beyond the tenseness of the moment so we were able to find a solution to problems. She'd also do the same thing on the House floor," she said.
"Nancy was very well-liked by people because she was always very pleasant to be around," said former District Judge John C. Coolahan, who once held the Senate seat that Ms. Murphy occupied from 1989 to 1994.
"They liked her in her home district, and they liked her in Annapolis," said Judge Coolahan. "I've known Nancy since we were kids growing up in the Arbutus-Halethorpe area. She was always a very friendly person and always had a joke, and I have to say, I never saw her mad."
"She was Catonsville," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a longtime friend.
"She really took care of the community in the best sense of the word. She had an interest in education and the university and helping get it involved in the community," said Dr. Hrabowski, who first got to know Ms. Murphy when he came to UMBC in the 1980s.
"And up until recently, she was still sending me notes. She was like a personal clipping service. These weren't emails but rather handwritten notes. She was always encouraging me to keep my head up," he said.
The daughter of a Bethlehem Steel Corp. foreman and a Pittsburgh Plate Glass supervisor, Nancy Lee Murphy was born in Baltimore and raised in Arbutus and Halethorpe.
During World War II, her parents moved their family to a farm in Hereford and then back to Catonsville, where she graduated in 1946 from Catonsville High School.
Ms. Murphy became a "formidable presence in Catonsville at a very early age. She loved people and was always ready with a smile and a funny story," said a son, Michael L. Alagna, who lives in Ellicott City.
When her children were young, Ms. Murphy immersed herself in community and volunteer activities. She ran the Little League snack shack, handing out hot dogs and hamburgers, and was a member of the Midget League Mothers.
She served as president of the PTA, and was vice president of the Consolidated Democratic Club and of the Edmondson-Westview Democratic Club. She was also a member of the League of Women Voters.
She had been a director of the Catonsville Business Association and a member of the Catonsville Business and Professional Women.
When her marriage to Frank M. Alagna ended in divorce, Ms. Murphy threw herself into politics.
To make ends meet, Ms. Murphy worked three jobs, including selling real estate for Charles A. Skirven Inc., family members said.
"She was the No. 1 community hand-raiser. When something needed to be done, she raised her hand. She was involved in everything. Her divorce was the trajectory that launched her into public life," her son said. "She built her base in Catonsville and wanted to give back to the community."
In 1978, she began her political career when she was elected to the Democratic State Central Committee. When she won her House seat in 1982, she became the first woman to represent Catonsville's 12th District.
She had squeaked by in a victory by only 28 votes on a ticket with then-state Senator Coolahan.
"It was the absentee ballots that made the difference," her son said. "After that, we always called her 'Landslide Murphy.'"
In 1989, she was elected to the Senate and held her seat until 1994, when she was defeated by Columbia resident Edward J. Kasemeyer.
Despite a strong record of criminal justice reform in Annapolis, Ms. Murphy lost her re-election bid because of redrawn boundary changes in Senate District 12, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.
Ms. Murphy planned to run that year for Baltimore County executive but later withdrew when she was unable to raise enough money or secure key endorsements.
"Nancy was a great citizen-legislator," said former state Sen. Julian L. "Jack" Lapides. "She represented her district well, was extremely caring and hardworking and well-liked by the establishment."
Mr. Lapides said that his longtime friend had a wonderful sense of "joie de vivre and really enjoyed life. She was upbeat, ebullient and fun-loving, and always had a joke and a kind word."
In 1997, Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Ms. Murphy to the Maryland Parole Commission, where she remained until stepping down Jan. 1, 2011.
"Nancy was a person who always had a keen sense of responsibility and understood what true leadership meant," said Dr. Hrabowski. "She was authentic and right about the right things. She represented the best of public service in America."
Ms. Murphy was a gourmet cook and enjoyed entertaining family and friends.
Family members said she was always dropping off cakes, cookies and candy that she had prepared for the officers and staff at the Baltimore County Police Department's Wilkens precinct.
"She'd take them to show how much she cared," her son said.
Ms. Murphy was a longtime active member of Catonsville United Methodist Church, where funeral services were held Thursday.
Also surviving are another son, Mark F. Alagna of Annapolis; a daughter, Julea Murphy of Catonsville; two sisters, Audrey Whitehead and Joanne Murphy, both of Eldersburg; and several nieces and nephews.