By Steve Sears
As he ends his tenure at Centenary University, outgoing President Dr. Bruce Murphy thinks only good things – especially about the future.
He says, “I think I’ll be hoping that the things that we’ve done, the things that we put in place, and the programs that we’ve started, that they all come to fruition, and that they all help to make the institution greater than it is, and as great as it can be.”
Murphy’s tenure at Centenary saw positive growth and change, significant challenges, and deep grief as well. His last day was June 30, and Dale G. Caldwell, former executive director of the Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University, became the first African American leader in Centenary’s 156-year history on July 1.
Murphy was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 1950s to his parents, George and Ruth Murphy. The Murphys moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where his dad started working for the Air Force. Two years after that, the Murphys moved to California.
For Bruce Murphy and his brother, Dennis, scouting was a huge part of their lives. “We were both Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Explorer Scouts,” Murphy says. “We both earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and we are vigil honor members of the Order of the Arrow. We were very active in the leadership of the various organizations that we were part of. I spent five years working as a counselor on Catalina Island just off the coast of California, and this was a significant influence on my life. I got to teach classes, mostly on the waterfront—swimming, lifesaving, rowing, canoeing, sailing, etc. – but also some of the dryland stuff. That is where I learned to love teaching; to see a student transform in their skills, knowledge, and attitudes about a subject that I cared deeply about, and hoped that they would, too.”
Murphy recalls the dedication of his parents to ensuring that their sons had a positive influence in their lives. “Especially my dad,” Murphy says. “He never had the opportunity to go camping or hiking with his dad, but he threw himself into it, and through reading and research, was able to lead a group of young boys in a program that he had never experienced himself. I always remember on campouts the other dads, who were the outdoorsman’s type and had knives and cowboy hats and things like that, were in sharp contrast to my dad, who wore the official scout uniform, including necktie, and carried a briefcase in the campsite.”
Another big influence on Murphy’s life was athletics, especially in high school. Having never played sports competitively prior to Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, California, Murphy attained some heights.
He says, “I made the league championships in track (9th in shot put), varsity tennis (we only had one level), and football. On the freshman and JV football teams my first two years, I was a two-way starter (offensive guard and defensive end) and twice selected game captain. On the varsity, my final two years, I played a little less, but enjoyed it more because it was under the lights.”
Murphy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, master’s degrees from both the Teachers College at Columbia University and the University of Southern California, and a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in educational leadership. A United States Army veteran, Dr. Murphy retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and afterwards taught leadership courses at West Point, and was vice president for academic affairs at the United States Air Force’s Air University in Alabama. A former professor at both Vanderbilt University and Mercyhurst College, Murphy is the founding director of the latter’s Master of Science in organizational leadership program, and the founding dean of the School of Business and professor of management at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Prior to Centenary, he was the fifth president of Nicholls State University in Louisiana and was also a professor of educational leadership there.
Dr. Murphy and his late wife, Jeanne Picariello Murphy, took over at Centenary University on January 1, 2020, and started running things just before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It certainly wasn’t on the game plan, and they didn’t tell me about that when I interviewed,” Murphy said with a chuckle. “I can recall when it happened that you could tell that it was going to be something big, it was going to impact everybody’s lives, and it was going to impact the way we operate. We had to make some decisions and some decisions were thrust upon us – and I am sure there was a little bit of luck in there. As I look back and reflect on it, we did some things early on that I think really helped us steer a straight course through it.”
Murphy is extremely proud of the academic advances made during his three and a half years at the school, including expansion of academic programs like financial planning, data analytics, computer science, and especially in the health and wellness sector. New programs in medical laboratory science, health science, public health, exercise science, and a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree are now offered, as is a master’s online program in Happiness Studies.
“That’s a program that’s the first in the world of a master’s level program,” Murphy says of Happiness Studies. “It generally talks about the field of happiness for the individual at the organizational, and almost at the societal level as well.” 97 students in October 2022 were taking the program. “That’s unheard of, quite frankly, in higher education, graduate, or new program startups – particularly one that nobody has ever done before. It is very gratifying, and they are doing well. We have students from all over the world that are taking the program. It looks like it is really going to pay off for us, and so I am glad that we did that.”
As exciting as the past three and a half years have been for Murphy, there is deep sadness as well. Jeanne Picariello Murphy, First Lady of Centenary University, was tragically killed in a hit-and-run pedestrian accident in January. A celebration of her life here was held on campus on the 22nd of January, and she was honored in April with interment at Arlington National Cemetery.
A former member of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, she was the first woman ever on the USA Modern Pentathlon team, was involved with an Olympic-themed speaker series on campus last year, and as a former Army nurse, she also played a role in the university’s new RN to BSN program, which is set to launch this fall.
The husband-and-wife duo were a wonderful team, especially at Centenary. Murphy says, “I found out a lot about her since her passing that I did not know about. I have been in contact with her high school classmates. They have inducted her into the Roosevelt High School Hall of Fame in St. Louis. That is going to happen in August. I am going out there for that. She was just an incredible personality. I know that she was such a force.”
“She is going to be with me forever, and she is going to be with so many other people forever.”
Murphy, 73, will now reside in Florida, and further feed a hobby he enjoys.
He says, “There is one thing that I was going to do way back in 2020 but COVID got in the way. I paid for it back then, but I have been postponing it. I am going to do it this summer, and that is going to a photo safari to South Africa. Jeanne was always encouraging me, but cautiously encouraging me because of her health background, saying, ‘You cannot go there now.’ ‘And so, I asked myself, ‘Should I continue to do that?’ Well, I think she is talking to me, and she is saying, ‘Go on that safari, because you have been waiting a long time.”
Dr. Bruce Murphy offers what he feels is the secret to life.
“It is something that Jeanne made part of her message. When a door opens, take advantage of it. There are opportunities that you never really think about, that you never know about. This is something that I always try to communicate to students, particularly students that are struggling while selecting a major. I always say that you should have a life plan and set that out, but along the way, there are going to be opportunities that present themselves. Do not be afraid to take those opportunities, to open that door and to go through it, because you never know what is going to happen.”