Judge Harold Loyd Murphy passed away peacefully in Rome, Georgia on the morning of December 28, 2022. He was 95 years old. Judge Murphy led an extraordinary life – one dedicated both to his family and the ideals of public service – and served as an inspiration and role model to countless members of the legal profession and the communities in which he lived. He epitomized all the finest character traits of the Greatest Generation: hard work, integrity, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, modesty, loyalty, and strong devotion to God and Country.
Born in the small community of Felton, Georgia shortly before the Great Depression, Judge Murphy was the son of James Loyd Murphy, a farmer and rural mail carrier, and Gladys McBrayer Murphy, a schoolteacher and principal. He attended West Georgia College – and following an intervening period of service in the United States Navy during the closing years of World War II – resumed his studies at the University of Mississippi and the University of Georgia School of Law. A 1949 graduate of the law school, his classmates included Carl Edward Sanders, the future governor of Georgia, and Thomas Bailey Murphy, his cousin and the future speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. He originally studied law with the goal of joining the FBI, but did not satisfy the minimum age requirement when he received his degree. Judge Murphy returned to his home of Haralson County, Georgia to practice law, and in 1950, he was elected to the Georgia House – at the time, the youngest member – and served five consecutive terms, running for reelection without opposition. He stepped down from politics in 1961 to focus on practicing law. Over the years, Judge Murphy built a thriving practice, first in Buchanan and later in Tallapoosa, and established himself as one of the premier trial lawyers in Georgia. He was a pillar of the community in Haralson County and devoted countless hours to spearheading a number of economic development initiatives. In 1958, he married Jacqueline Marie (Ferri) Murphy, his devoted wife and best friend who stood by his side for 64 years.
In 1971, Judge Murphy was appointed by Governor Jimmy Carter to the Superior Court for the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, and following his election in 1976, President Carter nominated Judge Murphy to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Judge Murphy was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 28, 1977 and presided over his first case the very next week. For 45 years, Judge Murphy served his country on the federal bench and became an acclaimed jurist and legal icon with a stellar reputation that extended far beyond Georgia. Known for his Solomon-like wisdom, Judge Murphy received high praise from both lawyers and their clients. He was a scholar and possessed a brilliant legal mind, but more importantly, he never forgot his roots or developed a sense of self-importance. While firmly in control of his courtroom, Judge Murphy always displayed a quick wit and a keen sense of humor, was kind and empathetic, and treated all those who appeared before him with courtesy and respect. He enjoyed the company of lawyers, and he loved mentoring his law clerks and other young lawyers. Judge Murphy liked nothing more than seeing good lawyers practice the art of good advocacy in his courtroom. A natural storyteller with a ready laugh, he had a treasure trove of stories about growing up in rural Georgia and his early years practicing law. He always enjoyed the tale of one client, whom he defended in a homicide case where the only viable defense was insanity. Judge Murphy would always chuckle when explaining how he put the client’s brother on the stand to elicit his opinion on the defendant’s state of mind, in response to which the brother replied, “I’ve thought he was crazy ever since he killed that other man!”
Judge Murphy presided over many significant cases and handed down rulings that were carefully considered and well-reasoned. His reputation was such that lawyers and their clients would frequently look for ways to get their cases in front of Judge Murphy. And it was not uncommon for the parties in a case to thank him for his fairness – even criminal defendants whom he sentenced to a term of imprisonment – and for jurors to tell him how he had renewed their faith in our legal system. He worked tirelessly and carried a full docket until the age of 90 when he decided to slow down and take senior judge status in the Northern District of Georgia. Judge Murphy received a number of professional awards and recognitions over the years, including from the State Bar of Georgia as well as his beloved law school in Athens. Perhaps no greater tribute was given, however, than Alabama State University’s decision in 2014 to rename its graduate school after Judge Murphy in recognition of his landmark ruling in Knight v. Alabama, a long-running case that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals asked him to handle involving the vestiges of racial segregation then present in the Alabama University System.
Above all else, Judge Murphy was a loving and devoted husband and father – and a strong role model for his two sons, both of whom he inspired to follow in his footsteps of the law and public service. He is survived by his wife of 64 years and the love of his life, Jacqueline Marie Murphy, and his sons and their wives, Judge Mark Harold Murphy and Karen Brown Murphy and Paul Bailey Murphy and Tanya Oakley Murphy. His grandchildren are Laura Marie Murphy, David Mark Murphy, Joseph Ross Murphy, and Blake Alexander Murphy. Judge Murphy was predeceased by his two brothers, James Bailey Murphy, Sr. and Larry Maurice Murphy. The family wishes to extend its deepest gratitude to the team of personal caregivers who have assisted Judge Murphy so ably and with so much compassion in recent years.
The family plans to hold a private service, followed by a celebration of life memorial at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Judge and Mrs. Harold L. Murphy ’49 Scholarship at the University of Georgia School of Law, the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, or the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).