John P. Murphy was born April 25, 1887 in Westboro, Massachusetts. In 1906, he entered Holy Cross College in Boston on an athletic scholarship. But a football injury later ended his participation in contact sports, and with it, his scholarship. In 1908, he entered Notre Dame College (now the University of Notre Dame) in South Bend, Indiana and graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Laws degree. Mr. Murphy began legal practice in Minneapolis, where he was admitted to the bar in 1913. On New Year’s Day of 1914, he assumed a law practice in Montana.
During World War I, Mr. Murphy joined the Army Air Corps and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Because of an inner-ear problem, flying was prohibited, and the Army assigned him as special counsel in their supervision of the Spruce Production Corporation during the notorious strike of the International Workers of the World. There, he was placed under the command of Colonel John E. Morley, who was from Cleveland and on leave from what is now the law firm of Jones Day. After the war, Morley urged Murphy to come to Cleveland, where he joined the legal department of M. J. and O. P. Van Sweringen as they were building their vast empire of real estate, railroads, and investments. He rapidly rose in that organization and became chief legal counsel, as well as a director and officer of many of the real estate and railroad corporations controlled by the Van Sweringens.
On June 30, 1924, John Murphy married Gladys Tate.
In 1937, following the deaths of both Van Sweringen brothers, Mr. Murphy and business partner Charles Bradley purchased one-hundred percent of the common stock and all of the indebtedness of The Higbee Company, one of Cleveland’s leading department stores. Mr. Bradley acted as president, and Mr. Murphy, who had joined the legal partnership of Morley, Stickle, Keeley & Murphy, acted as secretary.
The next ten years were fraught with legal battles over the reorganization and control of The Higbee Company. Charles Bradley died in 1944 before the final outcome was known, but Mr. Murphy became president of Higbee’s and carried on the legal battles while establishing a highly profitable retail business. He served as Chief Executive Officer of Higbee’s until 1967, and thereafter was a director or honorary director until his death in 1969.
Humble and simple in taste, John Murphy especially liked to help those who were willing to risk their own time, money and efforts in their endeavors. He found a true source of pleasure in seeing people have successful accomplishments of their personal goals. He loved amateur sports, opera, ballet, symphonic music, good literature and the Bible. His educational and working experiences as a lawyer greatly assisted him in basing his decisions on firm legal and ethical grounds, which provided for a clarity of direction to others.
John P. Murphy died in his home in Pepper Pike, Ohio, on July 15, 1969. His wife, Gladys, had preceded him in death by approximately six months. They had no children. John and Gladys Murphy are buried together in St. Luke’s Cemetery, Westboro, Massachusetts.