Obituary : Polly W. Murphy
Polly Woollcott Murphy, 86, died on Sunday, Nov. 15, with her family around her, at home in West Tisbury.
Born in 1923, Polly was the youngest of four daughters of William W. and Marie B. Woollcott of Catonsville, Md. A long-time Island resident, Polly grew up summering at her grandfather's house on West Chop along with her immediate and extended family.
She attended Bryn Mawr School and later Friends School in Baltimore before entering Swarthmore College. It was at Baltimore Friends that she met her future husband, Stanley Murphy. They were married in 1945 at an Army Base in Little Rock, Ark., with her sister Barbara the maid of honor. At the conclusion of the war, Stan enrolled in the Art Students League in New York City and the couple lived in a small coldwater walk-up apartment in Little Italy, which they shared with Stan's large stone lithographic printing press.
With one young child they moved to West Tisbury in 1948 where Stan took on a number of jobs while he pursued his artistic career. The family grew to include four children: Chris, Laura, Kitty, and David. Stan painted Island scenes and Islanders for more than 50 years until his death in 2003.
A writer from an early age, Polly's grammar school poetry appeared in the pages of the New Yorker Magazine and as a teenager she was a cub reporter for the Vineyard Gazette under the watchful eyes of Henry and Betty Hough. As an adult she wrote the Gazette column covering the news of Chilmark, and later for West Tisbury, along with contributing feature articles on a variety of topics. Her West Tisbury column would start with an observation of nature capturing the essence of the Vineyard outdoors of the previous week before the listings of the comings and goings of West Tisbury.
She managed the Stanley Murphy Gallery on South Road in Chilmark for many summers, greeting every visitor, especially welcoming the barefooted and shirtless. Through the gallery and her efforts, patrons became friends and friends became patrons. From her garden, Polly created stunningly beautiful flower arrangements, some of which were immortalized in oil paintings by her husband.
Active in the NAACP for many years, she was recently honored on a plaque at the old West Tisbury Free Public Library on the African American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard for her involvement with four other Vineyard women in a 1963 North Carolina Civil Rights mission to register voters. She also was an inaugural member of the West Tisbury Conservation Commission.
Known for her superb cooking, Polly frequently incorporated freshly harvested fish or fowl into the evening meal, usually accompanied by a sauce, something from her garden, and her homemade bread. She made French bread weekly for more than 45 years and also put up her own pickles and relish, as well as beach plum and wild grape jellies.
A lover of dogs, Polly became a breeder of golden retrievers and later had a series of standard poodles.
Her passions included: her family, civil rights, politics, gardening, the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, cooking, flower arranging, reading, writing, dogs, walking, and the beach. The large oval table in her kitchen was the gathering point for friends and family where she served pots of tea late every afternoon.
Polly is survived by her sister Nancy Smith of West Tisbury; her son Chris Murphy and his wife Barbara, of Chilmark; her daughter Laura of West Tisbury; her daughter Kitty, also of West Tisbury; and her son David and his wife, Gail, of Duxbury. Her grandchildren are Hope MacLeod, married to Chris; Mary Boyd, married to Jonathan, all of Chilmark; Clarissa Murphy of West Tisbury; and John Murphy of Duxbury. There are also three great-grandchildren: Finnegan and Linden MacLeod, and Emily Boyd.
Below is an excerpt from one of Polly's West Tisbury columns in November, 1976:
"We are now well-launched into November, and the second and sadder half of autumn. The days have turned warmer again this week, but the leaves are mostly gone from the trees. Even the tenacious oaks are bare and Brandy Brow has wall-to-wall carpeting of bright yellow maple leaves.
Pumpkins and Indian corn adorn the doorsteps where lately geraniums reigned. Great flocks of starlings sweep around the sky in changing fluid clouds or suddenly settle in the treetops in a loud cacophony of metallic chatter which is perhaps a commentary on the season just passed or perhaps a raucous greeting to the coming winter."
There will be a memorial service at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury on Sunday, Nov. 22, starting at 2 pm. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the West Tisbury Free Public Library.