Watergate? They broke into his office first!
by Peggy Myers
A veteran of Democratic National Conventions since 1952, Richard J. F. Murphy, Class of 1951, has many stories to tell. The beautiful Bethesda home he moved from this spring was a museum and archive of his involvement with the Democratic Party and the democratic process. Now the University Library is the beneficiary of his years of record keeping and careful collecting.
As a student at Carolina, Murphy was elected as a delegate to the National Student Association (NSA) Congress at Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1950, rising to the office of national president in 1952-53. Upon his graduation he spent five years working for the Democratic National Chairman, Paul Butler. He also served on the organizing committees of the Democratic National Convention for decades, chaired the Security Committee for seven conventions and was CEO (Director) of the 1972 convention in Miami Beach where George McGovern was nominated. He was appointed Assistant Postmaster General for eight years starting in the Kennedy administration and re-appointed in the Johnson administration.
Among the items Murphy has given to the Library’s research collections are tickets and entry badges for Democratic Conventions from 1900 to the present; proceedings of the conventions he has attended and organized; manuscripts and research for a soon-to-be published history of the NSA; material from John F. Kennedy’s campaign in which Murphy served as national coordinator of young voters; the speech and press release drafted by Murphy and others during that campaign announcing Kennedy’s intention to create the Peace Corps; candid photographs from the podium of several Democratic conventions and U.S. Postal Department events; and his personal library of over 3,000 books.
One object that the Library had to decline was Murphy’s "Watergate chair." In 1972 Murphy was in Miami preparing the arrangements for the Democratic National Convention. Several weeks previously he had received an early morning phone call from his assistant in Washington. His office at the Watergate was in disarray, although nothing appeared to be missing. Too busy to pursue the matter, they assumed that either a custodian or someone from the office had caused the mess and didn’t want to own up to it. Three weeks later when the Watergate burglars were arrested in their second break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters, it threw everything into a different light. As a memento and reminder, Murphy has always kept the green leather, high-backed executive desk chair that sat in his Watergate office. Fascinating as an artifact, the Library felt the chair would be more appropriately placed in a history museum setting than a research library.
Murphy continues to add manuscript items and books to his collection at UNC, which will benefit researchers who are interested in national politics, student political action and American history.
The Murphy Collection is part of the Library’s ongoing effort to collect materials that document social and political change in the United States and preserve original source materials for research.