Donald M. Murray, reporter, writer, teacher, coach, died Saturday, Dec. 30, of heart failure. Five days earlier, The Boston Globe published what would be his last column, one that captured the spirit of a man who despite a lifetime of achievement never stopped saying — or believing — that he remained, at 82, a student of the writing craft he so loved.
“Each time I sit down to write I don’t know if I can do it,” Murray wrote in “Finding Pleasure in the Challege of a Blank Sheet.” “The flow of writing is always a surprise and a challenge. Click the computer on and I am 17 again, wanting to write and not knowing if I can.”
In its obituary, The Boston Globe described how Murray’s intimate columns about the relentless struggles of aging “became a narrative embraced by legions of loyal readers” during the two decades he wrote for the paper.
Murray, who lived in Durham, N.H., within walking distance of the University of New Hampshire where he was professor emeritus of English, was visiting a friend in Beverly, Mass., when he died Saturday morning of apparent heart failure, said his daughter, Anne Nestelberger. He had battled cardiac problems for years.
Murray, a longtime friend of The Poynter Institute, first taught in writing seminars in the early 1980s. He donated his collected papers to Poynter’s Eugene Patterson Library in the mid-1990s.
In an introduction to “Real Writers Don’t Burn Out: Making a Writing Apprenticeship Last a Lifetime, “ a lecture Murray gave in 1995, Roy Peter Clark called him “the most important writing teacher in the history of the Republic.” Murray was quick to dismiss such grandiose claims; nonetheless, there was no denying, as Poynter’s senior scholar observed, that Murray’s work as one of the first newspaper writing coaches in American journalism “grew into a movement to improve newspaper writing that continues to this day.” He was still coaching local journalists this year.
Murray, who won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at the Boston Herald, established the journalism program at the University of New Hampshire. He published more than ten books on the writing process and its teaching as well as poetry and fiction.
Murray was married for 54 years to Minnie Mae (Emmerich) until her death, in February 2005, from Parkinson’s disease. He leaves two daughters, Anne, of Weymouth, and Hannah Starobin of Mount Kisco, N.Y.; sons-in-law Karl and Michael, and three grandchildren, Michaela, Joshua and Samuel.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article noted that Don Murray donated his papers to the Nelson Poynter Library. That library, however, is located at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. Murray actually donated his papers to Poynter’s own Eugene Patterson Library, located at the Institute.