In Memoriam: Robert K. Murray (OAH Treasurer 1975-84)

March 1, 2019

Robert Keith Murray, 96, of the University Village Inn, Tampa, Florida, died on February 9, 2019. Born April 9, 1922, in Union City, Indiana, he was the son of Darrell Richard and Orpha Alice Michael Murray. On December 7, 1943, he married Evelyn Fay Keller (who preceded him in death in 2015).

Educated in the public schools of Columbus, Ohio, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree (1943), a Bachelor of Science in Education degree (1943), and a Master of Arts degree (1947) from Ohio State University. He also earned his Doctorate in Modern American History from Ohio State University in 1949. During World War II, he served in the European Theater of Operations as a Signal Intelligence Specialist and, after the war, served briefly with the National Security Agency.

Dr. Murray was first an Instructor in History at Ohio State University before accepting a job at Pennsylvania State University in 1949. At Penn State University, Dr. Murray was promoted to full professor of American History in 1959 and served as Head of the History Department for ten years from 1959 to 1969. From 1964 to 1967, he was also an Assistant Dean in the Graduate School and was instrumental in the development and planning for the Penn State Kern Graduate Center. In 1974, he was elected a Senior Fellow in the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and retired in 1984 after 35 years of service with Penn State.

Very active in University affairs, Dr. Murray was at one time or another a member of the University Senate, the Senate Educational Policy Committee, the University Faculty Advisory Committee on Research, the University Calendar Committee, the University Press Committee, the Graduate Coucil, and the Applied Research Laboratory Advisory Council.

Dr. Murray was a member of Phi Beta Kappa (Junior year), Phi Alpha Theta (History honorary), Omicron Delta Kappa (activities honorary), Phi Delta Kappa (Education honorary), and Kappa Sigma fraternity. He belonged to the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the National Education Association, the Pennsylvania Historical Association, and the Association of University Professsors. He was secretary of the Pennsylvania Historical Association from 1952 to 1958 and was national treasurer of the Organization of American Historians from 1975 to 1984. Upon his retirement from the latter position, he was made an Honorary Life Member of the OAH for his contributions to that organization. He received a Research Service award from the state of Ohio in 1970 and was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Ohio State in 1978.

Believing that the historian owed as much to the general public as to his students and his profession, Dr. Murray’s research and publications illustrate that point. His publications included six books, over thirty articles, numerous book chapters, and many book reviews. His book Red Scare was published just at the end of the McCarthy hysteria in 1959. He helped open the Harding Papers, which were thought to have been burned. His resultant Harding Era (1969) was a History Book of the Month Club selection and also received the McNight Distinguished Book Award and the Phi Alpha Theta National Book award in 1970. He appeared on the “Today Show” and was widely interviewed in connection with his 103rd Ballot (1976), which was also a History Book of the Month Club selection. His book Trapped (1979) brought him a Life Membership in the National Speliological Society. His computer survey involving historians’ ranking of the presidents, Greatness in the White House, 1989, set a standard for historians judging presidential performance.

Dr. Murray was an institutional Peace Corps representative from 1961 to 1963; he was a special consultant to the American Council on Education from 1962 to 1964; he served on the National Archives Commission from 1971 to 1976; and he was a referee for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mr. Murray was a member of the State College Presbyterian Church where he was a deacon, an elder, and taught Sunday School. After retiring to Tampa, he became a member of the Forest Hills Presbyterian Church.

An avid blue-water sailor, he spent as much of his time as he could on his sailboat and at his home in the British Virgin Islands. There he was a supporter of the Virgin Islands National Parks Trust and of the Virgin Islands Search and Rescue Association.

He is survived by two daughters, Vicki M. McKeefery of Malvern, PA, and Constance L. Sargent of Brooklyn, N.Y.; one son, William M. Murray of Tampa, FL; one brother, Richard A. Murray of Tampa, FL; five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His wife, Evelyn Keller Murray, preceded him in death in 2015.

Services took place at gravesite on February 16, 2019, at Trinity Memorial Gardens of Tampa, Florida.