By JANET HEIM
3:35 PM EST, December 22, 2012
William E. Murray, known by family and friends as Bill, was more than willing to sign autographs when people realized he shared the same name as celebrity Bill Murray.
He was known for his wit and sense of humor, for starting his day singing and always being in a good mood, and for having a story for everything.
“He was funnier than Bill,” said younger brother James “Jim” Murray.
Bill’s only child, Tammy Lewis of Sylvania, Ohio, said after her father’s death, people were posting “Rest in Peace Bill Murray,” prompting confusion since some thought it was for the actor Bill Murray.
There were other brushes with fame, such as when Bill was picked out of the crowd and kissed by Lucille Ball at a USO performance in San Francisco after his ship returned from Japan.
And then there was the trip to Asheville, N.C., for Mayberry Days for the diehard Andy Griffith fan, when the stars of the show gravitated to Bill and his brother, Lowell.
“Bill had that charisma that attracted people,” Jim said. “I’d sum up his life by saying he was happiest when he was making other people happy.”
Bill was the seventh of the Rev. William F. and Bessie Murray’s 10 children, raised on a farm in Big Pool. They had seven sons and three daughters, all named for prominent writers.
In addition to founding the Orchard Ridge First Church of God in Hancock, the Rev. Murray was a teacher and principal in Pecktonville and Big Pool schools, as well as at Clear Spring High School.
Rayetta “Marie” Bloyer had Bill’s father as a teacher and knew he was strict. She was one of nine children, and when it came to dating, her parents, who also were strict, stressed the importance of choosing someone with strong family values.
Marie was 14 and selling tickets for the merry-go-round at Rowe’s Park in Conococheague when Bill came to the stand. She had a terrible headache, and he got her a Coke and an aspirin to show his concern.
“He always put us before him,” Tammy said. “It was instant love for him.”
The couple saw each other about once a week, going to the movies when money permitted. Bill didn’t have a car, but they would double date with Lowell, who had a car and was dating, and then married, Marie’s sister.
“I got to know Bill really well before I married him,” Marie said.
Tammy said her father told her Marie was the only girl he ever kissed.
“He was devoted to her from the day he met her,” Tammy said.
When asked the secret to a happy marriage of more than six decades, Bill replied to Tammy that it was simple, that Bill and Marie always needed each other throughout their lives.
“He always told me I was worth more than gold, that he could never repay me,” Marie said.
Always a jokester, Bill would say he stayed with Marie because she had such good insurance from working for AT&T, but it was much more than that.
“It was always a joint effort,” Tammy said.
When Tammy was a student at Conococheague Elementary School, Bill served as PTA president, a job typically reserved for mothers back then.
Marie worked a lot of evenings at AT&T, so Bill helped Tammy with her homework. Known for his creative side, Bill went above and beyond, at one point building a wallpapered, electrified dollhouse when Tammy’s class was studying how electricity worked.
Then there was the full-size Hawaiian hut he built and drove to Harrisburg, Pa., for Tammy to use to promote sales of a newly released Hawaiian stamp at the post office she managed.
While other classmates simply wrote a paper for a school project, Tammy’s only child, Katlyn, turned in a wooden Trojan horse that her grandfather had built for the project.
“I always got A’s on every project he helped with,” Katlyn said.
Bill was 20 and Marie 16 when they married on Saturday, April 16, 1949. It was Bill’s first leave after enlisting in the U.S. Army because jobs were so hard to come by, and he had to go back the next day.
Marie finished up at Clear Spring High School and worked at Peoples Drugstore. The couple lived in Williamsburg, Va., for five years, then returned to Hagerstown, where Tammy was born in 1957.
Bill worked for 10 years at Fairchild until it closed, then 35 years for Ogden Foods, servicing mostly theater and department store snack bars in the four-state region. Bill and Marie also ran Stephanie’s Cafe at Hagerstown’s City Market for many years.
Their cafe was named for a beloved niece, since it was before Katlyn was born. All of the breakfast items were named for family members.
Every summer, the Rev. Murray took his sons on a trip. In July 1954, within weeks after Supreme Court Justice William Douglas’ famous hike of the length of the C&O Canal, Murray and six of his seven sons walked the same 189-mile route from Cumberland, Md., to Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
It was done in the name of historical research that the Rev. Murray would share with his students. They hiked 15 to 25 miles a day, and despite the media attention they earned, which prompted residents along the trail to feed them, each of them lost 10 pounds, according to a local newspaper story.
The close-knit family was raised with a strong work ethic, always taught to exceed what was expected, along with a host of traditions, especially at Christmas.
Carrying on those traditions, like the tin-pie plate filled with old-fashioned Christmas candy, an orange, nuts and a handwritten note from Santa, was important to Bill.
“I’m 55 and my father still wanted to make sure I believed,” Tammy said.
She said the spirit of Christmas lived in their home year ’round.
“I know he believed Santa represented goodness,” Tammy said.
The family also was active in their church. Bill and Marie were members of Grace United Methodist Church in Hagerstown.
“Bill was a great person working in the church, always there to share in the work,” Marie said.
Bill began slowing down after surgery to remove his colon three years ago, but it was since last Christmas that the family noticed a decline in his energy and fluid retention due to congestive heart failure. He had hoped to make it for one more Christmas, but was at peace when the time came.
“The loss is so overwhelming for me because we were so close,” Tammy said. “His death was so peaceful and dignified, just like his life. He left his mark on everybody for sure.
“The Murrays are all unique, sentimental, smart and have a great appreciation of the good old days. I wish other people could know what we’ve had.”
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about William E. Murray, who died Dec. 10 at the age of 84. His obituary was published in the Dec. 12 edition of The Herald-Mail.
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