2018-09-13 / Obituaries

Blanche R. Murray

Blanche R. Murray, the first woman president of both the University of Rhode Island Foundation and Alumni Association, a lifelong educator who also served two terms on the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, died Sept. 6 at Newport Hospital in the loving presence of her family and under the compassionate care of the hospital’s nursing staff. She was 98.

When it became clear after her admission she would not return to her Jamestown home, Blanche gathered her large family for long daily visits that sustained her and that prepared her survivors for the once-unimaginable duty of living without her. She expressed her final wishes clearly and forcefully, declared her love for and pride in her children and grandchildren, and died as she had lived — passionate, devoted, and fiercely independent.

An ardent fundraiser for women’s athletics at URI and a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox, she lived to savor the team’s late rally to a 9-8 victory Sept. 5.

Born Marie Blanche Madeleine Richard in Oakland Beach on July 29, 1920, she was one of six children of Aimee and Blanche (Gilman) Richard. Her father was a pharmacist, and her mother was a homemaker who also did laundry and cooked meals for the clergy at Saint Rita Church, across the street from their house on Oakland Beach Avenue.

Her Catholic faith was a sustaining part of her life and was shared deeply among her family; an uncle, Donat Gilman, was a priest, and her youngest sister, Lorraine, became a Sister of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. Her mother refused Father Gilman’s request Blanche move to Canada to serve as rectory cook and housekeeper, but she also discouraged Blanche’s interest in moving to New York City to begin an acting career after graduating from Lockwood High School.

Instead, Blanche traveled to Kingston to attend URI, along with two of her sisters, a decision that would reverberate in her life and among the University community for many decades. She graduated in 1941 with a degree in home economics.

As a URI student, she joined Chi Omega. One of her granddaughters would later join Chi O and invite Blanche to share with her sorority sisters tales of campus hijinks. She attracted superlatives in the pre-war years when students voted for such things, being named Most Beautiful, Most Popular, Most Likely to Succeed, Most Ladylike (which pleased her mother), and Best Dancer (which pleased her).

Blanche also was a co-ed colonel of the ROTC unit (her uniform is in the special collections of the URI Library), president of the Concert Choir, and a member of the Portia (debating) Club and the Newman Club.

She also fell in love with a standout southpaw pitcher and hockey player at Providence College, E. Gerald (Jerry) O’Brien, of Apponaug, the manager of the baseball team at the Bainbridge Naval Training Station, in Maryland. They married in 1944 and after completing his military duty, moved to Rumford, where they raised four children and were founding members of the Rumford Active Civic Association.

Blanche returned to the classroom as a home economics teacher in 1958. When Jerry died unexpectedly in 1962, at the age of 44, Blanche brought her children into adulthood — and two of them to URI — as a single parent. She was fully present in her children’s lives, always demonstrating gentleness, decency, and hard work.

She remained keenly interested in state and national politics and sports, especially the URI men’s and women’s basketball teams, the URI football team, and the Red Sox. She taught for 18 years in the Pawtucket School District, mostly at Tolman High School. She was a gifted cook and seamstress.

After retiring from teaching, she was able to devote more time to URI, becoming an advocate for the College of Resource Development. Active on the State Cooperative Extension Committee, she helped set direction for its home economics, agriculture, and 4-H programs.

Her volunteer work for URI deepened in 1971, when she became the first woman president of the alumni association. Her work there led her to frequent meetings with another URI grad, a Jamestown lawyer named Daniel J. Murray, one of the founders of the URI Foundation and its president from 1972-75. The couple married in 1976, bringing together Blanche’s four children and Dan’s then four children, creating an ever-growing family continually inspired by their parents’ love, compassion, delight in travel, and extraordinary skills as gracious hosts. Family gatherings were — and remain — large, festive occasions for sharing news and affection.

Blanche won the Alumni Ram Award in 1976 and was named the first woman president of the URI Foundation in 1981, serving for three years. In 1983, she was honored as the Home Economics Teacher of the Year. She was appointed by Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy to the Board of Governors for Higher Education in 1984 and served for six years. URI recognized the service of both Blanche and Dan in 1988, when she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and Dan received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

She also was the chairperson of the College of Resource Development Advisory Council from 1991-92, served on the selection committee of the RI Heritage Hall of Fame, and for many years chaired the golf tournament committee of the URI Women’s Athletics Booster Club.

After Dan died in 1998, Blanche presided as the loving matriarch of her family, dispensing wisdom and good cheer. Dinner with her at any of her favorite restaurants was always her treat, and she never missed sending a card at a loved one’s birthday. She continued to work on URI’s behalf, being inducted into the College of Environment and Life Sciences Hall of Fame in 2003, and was named an Athletic Department Rhody Role Model in 2011. The following year she received the President’s Award from URI President David M. Dooley.

For 34 years, she was a member of the URI Foundation Executive Board and also served on a presidential search committee and the Golden Grad Committee.

In addition to her husbands, she was predeceased by her sisters, Roma Bourassa, Yvette Biehusen, Alice Unsworth, and Mother Mary of the Presentation, RJM; and a brother, Paul Richard.

She is survived by her eight children and step-children: Carole E. Cook and husband Philip of Chantilly, Va.; Richard M. O’Brien of Riverside; Edward G. (Jerry) O’Brien and wife Nonnie of Kingston; Kathleen O. Anstis and husband John of Stratford, Conn.; Barbara Benson of Newport; Martha Murray and husband John Gambell of New Haven, Conn.; Luke Murray and wife Cyndi of Middletown; and Jane Murray and husband Doug Brill of Jamestown.

She leaves behind 19 grandchildren: Brandon Cook, Lindsay Kane, Elizabeth O’Brien, Nicholas

O’Brien, Adam O’Brien, Eric O’Brien, Daniel O’Brien, Kelly Straw, Andrew Straw, Connor Anstis, Christopher Anstis, Sarah Warren, Luke Benson, Abby Benson, Daniel Benson, Timothy Gambell, Caroline Gambell, Callan Murray, and Jake Murray.

She also leaves behind 13 greatgrandchildren: Emma and Austin Kane; Liam and Elias O’Brien; Colin and Christopher Cook; Nicholas Warren; Seneca, Sienna, and Alisa Benson; and Ryder, Bridger, and Ledger Benson; and two great-great-grandchildren, Amar’e Douglas-Jenkins and Aceyn Benson.

Her wake will be from 2-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16 at Fagan-Quinn Funeral Home, 825 Boston Neck Road, North Kingstown, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 17, at Saint Mark Church, 60 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown. Burial will be at Saint Mark Cemetery, East Shore Road, Jamestown.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Daniel J. & Blanche R. Murray Family Endowed Scholarship, which provides assistance to URI students in financial need, care of the URI Foundation, P.O. Box 1700, Kingston, RI, 02881.

There is one more thing Blanche, a lifelong golfer, would want you to know: At the age of 84, on May 20, 2005, on the par- 3 fifth hole at Jamestown Golf Course, she deftly swung her 3-wood and made a hole-in-one.

For information and condolences, visit www.FaganQuinn- FuneralHome.com.

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