Catholic University Remembers the Legendary Franny Murray

Catholic University Remembers the Legendary Franny Murray

By Chris McManes

WASHINGTON – Franny Murray served God, his family and his country with distinction. And for nearly 70 years, he served the people of Catholic University.

His service came to an end when he died peacefully at home in the early morning hours of August 4th. He was 94. Absent in body, his spirit will carry on in the thousands of lives he touched.

"Franny was a very caring and loving person," said Bill Leahy, a CUA basketball All-American who graduated in 1964. "He truly had the interests of the students at heart. He left a profound influence on my life.

"I always admired him and had the utmost respect for him."

Franny is survived by a brother, sister, eight children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The viewing and funeral will be at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hyattsville, Md. His life will be celebrated at the Pryzbyla Center on Wednesday beginning at about 12:30 p.m.

Franny's engaging personality made him a confidant to many. His ability to remember students' and their families' names was legendary. He had an uncanny ability to connect with people of all ages. Spending time with him made you feel good about yourself.

"Every time I saw him he told me he loved me," Cardinal Women's Lacrosse Coach Meghan McDonogh said. "I was always a grandpa's girl, so having Franny around after my grandfather passed away was really comforting.

"I don't know why he decided he liked me, but I'm really lucky."

Whether you were a drama student needing a towel, a fourth-string tight end or an All-American, if you needed someone to listen to your problems and dispense free advice, Franny was your man. His frame of reference was shaped by his parents, Frank and Helen, the Roman Catholic Church, the Great Depression and the unspeakable horrors of World War II.

Students, staff members, athletes, clerics and university presidents felt his warmth and kindness. He was above all a gentleman.

CUA President John Garvey, J.D. called him "an institution within an institution."

Before Mike Lonergan became head men's basketball coach at George Washington, he played and coached at CUA. He first met Franny when he used to play pick-up games on campus at Brookland Gymnasium in 1983. He last saw him when the school celebrated the 15th anniversary of Lonergan's 2001 National Championship team on Feb. 20, 2016.

"Franny was one of my all-time favorite people. I just loved the man," Lonergan said. "He was a great friend who always brought a smile to my face, no matter what kind of mood I was in. He touched so many lives at Catholic University, including mine.

"I feel blessed to have known him for 33 years."

A Life Well-Lived

The United States changed quite a bit during Franny's lifetime. It went from record players to iPods, from pay phones to smartphones, from station wagons to electric cars.

Franny's life, however, didn't change a whole lot. He and his wife Eileen were married for 58 years until she died in 2005. He never thought about retiring: "What the hell am I going to do sitting at home all day?"

Franny was happy living in the same house he and Eileen lived in on 24th Avenue in nearby Lewisdale, Md. His car knew all the turns, stop signs and traffic signals to get him safely to and from Brookland Gym and later DuFour Center. It seemed like the car was driving him rather than the other way around.

Once he got to work, he'd tend to the endless laundry, assign lockers and order equipment, among myriad other duties. He'd set the early morning mood by popping in a cassette or CD of his favorite recording artist, Frank Sinatra.

Tom Young, who coached Cardinal men's basketball from 1958-67, remembers Franny listening to Ol' Blue Eyes more than 50 years ago.

"He was always playing Frank Sinatra records right by the window," Young said. "So [the music] was going across campus right out into the parking lot. He had more students, and especially a lot of the girls, always hanging around listening to Sinatra and talking."

Franny also liked horse racing. Richie Seel, who graduated from CUA in 1975 and was an assistant basketball coach under Jack Bruen, recalled going out on occasion to Bowie (Md.) Race Track and Laurel (Md.) Park with Franny. In the 1970s, they went to the Preakness together a few times.

"I put some small bets in for him on this year's Triple Crown," Seel said. "He was still getting his bets in till the end."

Embracing Women's Sports

When Franny attended the university it only fielded men's teams. Jone Dowd founded the women's intercollegiate athletic program in the early 1970s. Prior to that, Franny coached women's intramural basketball and volleyball.  

A Dec. 1, 1961 article in The Tower campus newspaper described a scene in which Franny prepared the wrong sorority volleyball team to play:

"The visitors took great pride in baffling TPA coach Franny Murray by showing up for the contests wearing Theta Phi sweatshirts. Franny divulged most of the secret plays in his mental treasury before he realized that he was talking to the opposition."

Franny embraced women's varsity sports and later grew quite fond of McDonogh and former Cardinal Field Hockey Coach Gia Cillizza.

"Dad loved Meghan and Gia," said son Marty Murray, who works part-time with Bobby Picardo in the CUA equipment room. "Once he decided he loved you, he considered you part of his family. He really cared about those two girls."

The feeling was mutual.

In addition to taking care of uniforms and equipment, Franny also served previously as an athletic trainer and spent a year as athletic director. Although he had scant technical knowledge of lacrosse, it didn't stop him from telling McDonogh how she could have coached better.

"He's the only person who would critique my coaching to my face," McDonogh said. "I would call him a 'crazy old man' and we would banter about it. It was just fun though because he knew all my kids' names.

"I called probably 12 to 15 alums [the morning he died] because I wanted them to hear it from me before they saw the press release. It was heartwarming to hear them reflect on Franny and what he meant to them and our program. He just really cared and he took care of us. He had a really big heart."

Beloved for Years

Whenever Young or Leahy came back to campus, they would always seek out Franny. Young, who went on to coach Rutgers to the 1976 Final Four and finished his career as an assistant with the Washington Wizards, got his first head coaching experience at CUA.

"I had just finished playing and graduated from Maryland. So he was the first trainer and the first equipment man that I had, a jack of all trades," Young said. "To me he was great because he was just a regular guy. He didn't baby the athletes and most students at all. As a result, they were better. They became better men and better athletes.

"It made my job much easier because as much as he didn't baby them, he also loved those guys. He really got along extremely well with them forever and ever, no matter who was coaching and who was playing. He was the same old Franny.

"He was just a rock of that department for years."

Leahy recalled Franny driving players to away games in his station wagon.

"Tom Young drove one car and Franny drove the other," said Leahy, a CUA Hall of Famer and all-time leading rebounder in school history. "When I rode with Franny we always told a lot of jokes and had a lot of fun. I enjoyed his company the entire time."

Young, who also coached the Cardinal baseball team, said Franny always called Eileen whenever he'd be coming home later than usual. A local call used to cost 10 cents at a pay phone.

"After practice, whether it was baseball or basketball, we would go to the local tavern and have a beer or two," he said. "And he would call his wife. He would say, 'Tom, let me tell you something. This dime is the most important thing. It's going to save you a lot of problems. You call your wife and tell her you're going to be 45 minutes [late] or whatever.'

"He always, always made that phone call with that dime. It was a good lesson for all of us."

A Boy Goes to War

Francis Edward Murray was born in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 1922. He grew up in the northeast quadrant of town and attended Catholic schools all his life. He graduated from all-boys St. Paul's Academy High School, which later became Mackin Catholic before merging with Archbishop Carroll.

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Franny and a friend joined the Army Air Corps in early 1942. They were sent to Texas to learn how to be airplane mechanics. In April 1988, Franny told William Gildea of The Washington Post that they were in a class of 900.

"They took 30 of us from the middle of the alphabet," Franny said, and sent them to fight in the Pacific theater against the Japanese. Murray served as a B-25 gunner on combat missions. He survived his plane being shot down in New Guinea. He remained overseas until shortly after V-J Day on Aug. 14, 1945.

Franny's family members know little about the medals he won. He didn't like to talk about them.

Stan Levy (pronounced "leh-vee") also fought in World War II before graduating from CUA in 1950. In a January 2013 interview, he said he wanted people to know that the men he attended school with at CUA were extraordinary human beings.

"Any man in the infantry who marched through that mud from North Africa or Germany did as much or more than I did," said Levy, who served aboard a submarine. "How about those Marines on those Pacific islands – Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa? I mean, good God. And how about those guys who flew all those missions over Germany and Japan? And the sailors who were in the greatest sea battles of all time – Coral Sea and Midway?

"It was one hell of a war."

Marty Dowd, who coached the Cardinal men's tennis team for 53 years, said, "All of the guys who fought in World War II are heroes."

A Man Returns to School

Franny took advantage of the education provisions of the G.I. Bill and enrolled at Catholic University in 1946. The legislation granted veterans stipends to cover tuition and other expenses to attend college or a trade school. While at CUA, Franny met Eileen Krug and they got married in June 1947. She also went on to work for the university, primarily in the School of Philosophy.

"The most amazing miracle is … we could spend three or four years in the most brutal war imaginable and then suddenly be rehabilitated as civilians," Levy said. "A lot of the credit goes to Catholic University and, of course, our country for giving us the G.I. Bill."

Levy appreciated the post-war opportunities the United States and CUA afforded people like him and Franny.

"The greatest thing this country ever did for us was give us the G.I. Bill, which put so many veterans through college," said Levy, who died on Dec. 1, 2014. "That's why they call us the greatest generation when it comes to developing doctors, lawyers, engineers and others."

Franny, needing a job to help support his wife, worked as a student helper in the Athletic Department. By the time he earned his degree in English in 1950, he was firmly entrenched in his lifelong love affair with CUA Athletics. Here's how he was described in a September 1957 Tower article:

"Mr. Murray, who reigns the world within the cage, serves the athletes of the school as trainer, manager, scorekeeper, timekeeper … and critic."

Franny boxed for the Cardinals under Eddie LaFond for two years. The Cards had one of the finest teams in the country and produced the school's first two individual national champions. The matches were so popular that as many as 4,000 people would cram into Brookland Gymnasium to see them.

"We fought at 8 o'clock and you couldn't get in after 6," Franny recalled in March 2012. "The place was packed. Kids would bring their books and study before the fights. It was quite a big thing. I think it was the best sport we ever had here."

Turning a Phrase

Franny's quips were legendary. Here are a few of the good ones:

Former CUA Athletic Director Bob Talbot told the Washington City Paper what Franny said when he told him people were spending $130 for a ticket to see him receive the President's Medal:

"I wouldn't pay $130 for a seat at the Last Supper."

Cardinal Men's Basketball Coach Steve Howes recalled Franny telling him on numerous occasions:

"Don't work too hard. The pay is all the same."

On the morning following a loss, Franny would often say:

"Hey, 200 years from now nobody will remember."

A Tower writer captured these gems in his April 15, 1977 story, "Franny's Personality Makes Him More Than Equipment Manager":

"I wasn't very good, but I was handsome then," he said of his boxing career. "I got knocked down so often that advertisers used to rent out space on the soles of my shoes."

"I'm too old. I don't have to believe anything," he said of the possibility of the school building a new gymnasium. (DuFour Center opened in 1985.)

"I just do what I want, and I'm terrible at it."

When asked in 2010 if he was going to go to Notre Dame to see Howes' team kick off its 100th anniversary season against the Fighting Irish," he replied:

"Are you kidding? I wouldn't go across the street to see Notre Dame play the Twelve Apostles."

Becoming a Campus Legend

During his 2014 induction into the CUA Hall of Fame, Marty Dowd recalled what he was instructed to do after making the tennis team as a freshman in 1956:

"My captain told me to go to the cage in Brookland Gym and see the old man. I said who is that? He said, 'Franny Murray.'"

Franny attended every CUA home football game from 1947 through 2014. Not even a triple bypass in 1982 or a right knee replacement in the early 1990s kept him away. His record attendance at home men's basketball games stretched from 1947 through the end of the 2014-15 regular season.

He would have seen the Cardinals' first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Alvernia on March 5, 2015, but he broke his left hip while at work two days prior. He was never quite the same.

Franny's memory wasn't limited to current students and players. Stories abound about people coming back to campus years after they graduated and he still knew their names. He'd even ask about their parents – by name. Tell him your children's names once and he'd remember it every time you visited.

"He never, ever forgot a name," Young said. "It was incredible, absolutely incredible. I wish I could have come close to remembering names like he did."

That this habit endeared so many to Franny should come as no surprise. In his best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote: "Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language."

Because of his many contributions to the Cardinal Athletic Department, including stints as director of intramurals and sports information, Franny was enshrined in the CUA Hall of Fame in 1988. The same 2009 day he received the university's highest honor – the President's Medal – CUA unveiled Franny Murray Court.

Franny, 86 at the time, was a little overcome by all the activity that day and was taken to a local hospital. It was discovered that he only had one kidney. Had the Army known about it, he might not have been sent to war.

McDonogh, an assistant athletic director and senior woman administrator, remembered seeing Franny and Dr. Garvey at last year's Homecoming.

"They walked in together and people were flooding to Franny," she said. "And President Garvey was joking, 'Oh OK, I see.' The rest of us were like, 'Hi President Garvey but we really just care about Franny.' He said, 'I know, I totally understand.'"

An Ache in Our Hearts

Franny used to enjoy football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse from the track by the south end zone of Cardinal Stadium. His chair, like our hearts, will now be empty.

"Franny was a great guy, the best CUA man ever," former Cardinal Football Coach Tom Clark said. "He'll be treasured in the memories of thousands of CUA athletes."

And Franny Murray Court is liable to feel strange without its namesake sitting with friends and his sons Mike and Marty.

"We just lost an amazing person," McDonogh said. "But I definitely think his memory is going to live on for a very long time. We were all lucky that we got to know him.

"I have a huge freshman class coming in, and I look forward to telling them how much he meant to our program and our university."

Chris McManes is a former Catholic University's sports information director. He was privileged to know Franny Murray for 30 years.