Jack Murphy- May 26, 1937- Sept. 16, 2020
Jack Murphy died last week. I worked with him numerous times with Bill Glass Prison Ministries (Champions For Life). He ran me ragged. He spoke at our CGM fundraiser banquets at least three times. He was a friend and a mentor.
The song, The Touch of the Master’s Hand, partly describes his life:
It was battered and scarred and the auctioneer thought it was hardly worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin as he held it up with a smile.
It ain’t worth much, but it’s all we got left, guess we ought to sell it, too.
Now, who’ll start the bid on this old violin, just one more and we’ll be through…
The song goes on to tell how the bidding on an old beat up violin stalled at $3.00. Then someone in the crowd came forward, picked up the bow, tightened the strings, and played a beautiful melody. When the crowd realized the worth of the old instrument, the bidding picked up at $1000… 2000… 3000… and then… SOLD! $3000! Its true worth was recognized.
When I recorded this song 20 years ago, a former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra first chair violinist played the background music! That violinist was Jack Murphy, who also had been a tennis champion, a Barnum & Bailey Circus high diver, a hall of fame surfer, a surf board manufacturer, a Hollywood stunt man, a jewel thief (!), and eventually, part of a crime that took the lives of two people. He ended up in the Florida State Prison with two life sentences! And then (long story), a prison minister with Bill Glass Prison Ministries for more than 30 years.
Jack’s life went from a charmed, successful, adventerous, financially secure life to a “battered and scarred” existence in a maximum security prison. While in an 8×10 solitary confinement cell on death row in the Florida State Prison, he received a letter from a stranger who talked about Jonah in the belly of the whale. Jack began to ask himself, “How did I get here?! From first chair violinist; from training with the U.S Olymic team; from having my own line of surf boards; to a place about as big as the belly of whale. What happened!?”
That day Jack began to realize that something went wrong. Although Christians had written to him and Christian inmates had tried to talk to him, he “wasn’t ready.” One day the new chaplain came on death row and with his South Carolina drawl, he challenged Jack to consider Jesus.
“Get out of here with that garbage. I don’t need that stuff!” was Jack’s answer.
Chaplain Max Jones said, “Well, when you’re done being a tough guy, let me know. Jesus has a better plan for your life than you seem to have. If you’re in prison, you haven’t managed your life very well.”
Jack couldn’t argue that. When he got released from death row into general population he went to the chapel. Some of his tough guy buddys had become Christians while he was in the hole. He went to chapel to see what was going on and after several weeks, he went forward and committed his life to Jesus.
One of the accusations by his unsaved friends was that, “You’re just doing this to feel good.” Jack’s reply was, “DUH! You’re right! Why do you think we drank whisky?! Why do you think we took drugs?! Why did we chase women?! SO WE WOULD FEEL GOOD! I feel better than I ever have! For the first time in years, I sleep all night. The guilt is gone. I can look people in the eye! There is peace! You’re absolutely correct! I gave my life to Jesus so I would feel better!”
Through a series of miracles and people going to bat for this reformed criminal, including the prison wardon(!), Jack was released after serving 20 years of his double life sentence. One of the arguments at the parole hearing was by his ex-convict friend, Frank Constantino. “You call these places ‘corrections,’ or ‘reformatories,’ ‘penitentaries,’ (which comes from the word, “to do penance”). Well, this man is reformed. He is “corrected.” He repented. If you don’t consider his release, then change the name of these institutions to what they really are: warehouses. Don’t give us this balony about corrections.” Frank persuaded the parole board.
There were reporters at the prison gate when Jack was released. “How do we know you’re really reformed?!” was their accusing question. “Watch me,” was Jack’s simple answer.
We watched him for 30 years. Thousands of prison services; thousands of changed lives; NO more crime; thousands of banquets, churches, radio programs, TV shows (including Larry King Live!)… we watched until May 26. Jack is home.
“He’s auctioned off cheap to the thankless crowd, much like that old violin.
But then the Master comes and the foolish crowd can never understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the Touch of the Master’s Hand!”