Journalism Student Remembers Don Murray
By Holly Young, Cooperative Extension
January 10, 2007
Getting the paper as I always do each morning from its tube at the end of
our driveway, I stopped mid-track to make sure I’d read the headline
right. Don Murray gone? How could that be? I started to cry. I wouldn’t
see my teacher and mentor again.
Before I entered the University of New Hampshire, my mother, in her wisdom,
had suggested I transform my love of writing into a journalism career. (She
later told me my favorite word growing up was “why?” all the time – driving
her to distraction.) And that’s exactly what I did.
I came to UNH in the fall of 1969 with expectations that grew in delight and
amazement once I met Donald Murray. I may have had a passing interesting in
journalism as a means to an end, but Don switched on what I came to think of
as my “light bulb” the day I entered his classroom. It still glows.
It glows because I continue to look at how I’m going to craft a story
with the instructions and information he imparted. He was such a good story-teller.
I remember one writing practice he gave us: Remember something and write down
at least 100 descriptions of it. I chose my Dad’s barn. I thought it
was going to be easy. But I got up to about 30 and stumbled. What was I thinking – or
not thinking? How could I reach 100 descriptions of a plain old red barn? Then,
the “light bulb” turned on. What an amazing barn it turned out
I still think about how to describe things – it used to be car wrecks,
blazing infernos, human interest stories when I was working at The Portsmouth
Herald. Don used to tell us, if you can’t draw the reader in, you haven’t
succeeded. I wanted to succeed for him back in the classroom. I still do today.
And in the back of my head, always the question of why, as much as the who,
what, when, where and sometimes how of things. He made sure that I continued
my love affair with asking questions, and if you ask anyone around me today,
they’d agree wholeheartedly. That’s the special gift Don Murray
imparted to me: don’t lose track of the fun you can have when you’re
I am still so proud of where Don’s teaching led me. Back when I was
learning all the intricacies and nuances of writing here at UNH, I was able
to do the first-ever UNH journalism internship at The Portsmouth Herald that
resulted in an actual job. I still have the letter to prove it, I was so proud
of that accomplishment.
The years passed, and I’d run into Don and he’d note that he’d
been following my articles, always with a compliment. His comments and compliments
were always heartfelt and I’d walk away thrilled that he’d noticed.
Then I came full circle, coming back to UNH to work for Cooperative Extension.
I put my writing skills to work in new ways, always with those “murrayisms” I
hope keep my writing fresh and vibrant. I had new stories to tell, and my love
affair with storytelling continued.
The last time I saw Don Murray, he was at a favorite Thai restaurant my husband
and I frequent. Always the gentleman, he stood when I went to say hello. It
was always good to see him, to hear that voice. I’d comment on a recent “Now
and Then” article he’d written (I read them religiously), but ever
gracious, it was always about how I was doing, and my work.
I’ll miss opening the Boston Globe and looking for his columns, but
as the days have passed since that initial shock, I’ve come to realize
Don may be gone, but that “light bulb” he switched on in my mind
is still shining, as it must shine for the hundreds of other writers who had
the good fortune to study with him.
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