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Jeremiah Murphy, 78; brought keen eye, clear voice to Globe

Jeremiah V. Murphy was a prolific newspaperman of the old school who wrote 1,800 stories and 1,500 columns -- about 3 million words -- during the 38 years his work graced the pages of The Boston Globe.

''There never was, and probably never will be, a newspaper reporter quite like Jerry. He was a great writer, but he was also a great listener," David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and former Washington bureau chief for the Globe, said yesterday of Mr. Murphy, 78, who died Sunday of complications of Alzheimer's disease in Ledgewood Nursing Home in Beverly.

Mr. Murphy was a hardworking reporter who usually wore a sports jacket and a loosened tie. He didn't look quite right unless he had a pen in one hand and notebook in the other, or unless he was hunched over a typewriter. If he didn't have a story to work on, he went out and found one.

''He was a throwback. He knew everyone -- from mayors to judges to street cops and corner-store owners. He talked their language and wrote of their successes and heartbreaks," Stephen A. Kurkjian, an assistant editor at the Globe, said yesterday.

Mr. Murphy wrote from a blue-collar perspective in a style that could be tough, direct, and poignant. He wrote about boxers and barmaids, about soldiers and the mothers who mourned them. He covered the Vietnam War, the Boston busing crisis, and the election of a pope.

''He would approach a story with the same vigor and commitment, whether it be covering the war in Vietnam, political clashes in Ireland, or writing a column about an unfortunate person in one of Boston's neighborhoods," said John C. Burke, a former Globe assistant managing editor.

When sent to cover the circus once, Mr. Murphy didn't write about the elephant act or the lion trainer. He wrote, ''Frankie Saluto is a circus midget, and when the show was over at dusty old Boston Garden he took off his red and white makeup, dodged the impatient traffic on Causeway Street, and headed for Jack Sharkey's bar."

Mr. Murphy enjoyed needling politicians and sportswriters. ''There always has been an uneasy feeling here that the State House is the most parochial spot in Boston," he once wrote, ''with the obvious exception of the Fenway Park pressbox."

Globe reporter Jack Thomas recalled Mr. Murphy's approach to the job: ''From the city room he'd set out in the morning like an explorer, unsure of where he was going, what he would see, or whom he would meet, and late in the day he'd return, take off his coat, and write a wonderful feature that would provide a peek into Boston the rest of us had missed."

Mr. Murphy grew up in an apartment in Beverly. He enlisted in the Navy in 1944 shortly after graduating from high school. When World War II ended, he enrolled at the University of Virginia.

He worked for the Beverly Times, the Cape Cod Standard Times, and the Providence Journal before joining the Globe as a copy editor in 1959.

He lived in Rockport for many years and often wrote about the town in his column. In 1992, noting that people often asked him why he put up with an hourlong commute each way, he wrote, ''If you live in Rockport, you are awakened sometimes by the screeching seagulls flying over the house, and on some nights, if the wind is just right, you fall asleep to the sound of a foghorn in from Thacher's Island. They are nice sounds."

''He was a gregarious, sometimes stubborn, never pretentious guy," his son Sean, a Globe reporter, said yesterday. ''He loved family, his friends, and being a newspaperman -- crawling around Boston or the North Shore looking for a column or a story to write."

Mr. Murphy's columns were often tinged with sadness, sometimes drawn from his experience as a father. In 1972, he wrote about dropping off another son, a 19-year-old bound for the Navy, at Logan Airport: ''We didn't talk very much [on the drive to Boston] and I tried to remember where the 19 years had gone, because it seemed like a week before last that I had carried a baby out of Beverly Hospital."

Of the parting, he wrote, ''We shook hands, and he grabbed his green sea bag and he looked young and brave when he went through the door. Then he was gone."

Mr. Murphy retired in 1997. A few dozen of his columns were collected in the book ''Jeremiah Murphy's Boston."

''The book inspired a generation of Boston journalists, who have it on their shelves," said Shribman, who grew up on the North Shore and began reading Mr. Murphy's columns as a child. ''And I'm sure a generation of us will read it again tonight. But that's OK, because he was a helluva journalist and a wonderful guy."

In addition to his son, he leaves his wife, Katherine (Morency); three other sons, Jeremiah V. III of Swampscott, Timothy A. of Beverly, and Paul F. of Rockport; two daughters, Elizabeth A. Blodgett of Beverly and Kathleen A. Burley of Rockport; and a sister, Gloria Cortucci of Beverly.

A funeral Mass will be said Thursday at 11 a.m. in St. Joachim's Church in Rockport. Burial will be in Beech Grove Cemetery in Rockport.

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