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William Celestin Murphy 1920-2016

William Celestin Murphy
William Celestin Murphy
William Celestin Murphy (“Bill”), 95, passed away in Aurora, Illinois, on November 25, 2016.  He died just 10 days before his 96th birthday.  A respected and ground-breaking trial lawyer, during his 68-year career he represented people from all walks of life:  farmers, school teachers and school boards, factory workers and industrialists – even Illinois Supreme Court justices turned to him for counsel and guidance. 

His advocacy led to the abolition of sovereign immunity in Illinois and compensation for students badly burned in a school bus crash (Molitor v. Kaneland School Dist.), a $13.4 million jury verdict for a Kendall County high school student rendered quadriplegic in a car accident (Vaughn v. Westphal), a $7 million jury verdict for breach of a non-competition agreement by the former owner of a business (Vendo. Co. v. Stoner), and the establishment of the “exposure rule” holding that the exposure of a victim to asbestos is what triggers coverage under liability insurance policies (Insurance Company of North America v. 48 Insulations).  Any one of these would count as a lifetime achievement for most lawyers – Bill had these, and many more.  Even his rare disappointments had national reverberations:  a then-obscure Chicago lawyer, John Paul Stevens, prosecuted Bill’s Illinois Supreme Court Justice clients for conflicts of interest, leading to their resignation in 1969.  This caught the eye of President Richard Nixon, who appointed Stevens to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1970, and President Gerald Ford, who appointed Stevens to the United States Supreme Court in 1975.  In 2012, Justice Stevens wrote to to Bill that “My memories of our shared experience during the hearings that arose as a result of the Isaacs case are still vivid and include respect and admiration for your part in that event.”  Above all, Murphy was a trusted counselor, a mentor to a score of younger lawyers who now practice law not only in Kane County, but from Wall Street to San Francisco. 

In 2002, Murphy was named a Laureate by the Illinois State Bar Association, an award honoring those who exemplify the highest ideals of the legal profession.  He continued to practice law actively until August 2016. 

Bill was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1920.  His parents were William F. Murphy, of Sycamore, Illinois, and a member of the Chicago Board of Trade, and Louise Florence Murphy, whose parents immigrated from Ranrupt, France; she was a graduate of what was then known as Northern Illinois Teachers College (now NIU) and taught for many years in the Aurora, Illinois public schools.

Bill graduated from Aurora West High School in 1938.  At West High, he was a nationally-honored extemporaneous speaker and debater, placing second in the nation in extemporaneous speaking in 1938.  He was also lineman on West High’s Upstate 8 Champion football team in his senior year.  He attended Harvard College on scholarship, graduating magna cum laude in 1942.  As a senior, he was elected a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, and at graduation, Bill was selected by his classmates to deliver the Harvard Oration.  After graduation, during the Second World War Bill served as an officer in the United States Navy, assigned to the Pacific Theater as supply officer aboard the escort carrier U.S.S. Corregidor during the invasions of Kwajalein Island and Saipan, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf (1943-1944).  Leaving active duty in 1946, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1948 and returning to Aurora to practice law with Congressman Frank Reid and Lambert Ochsenschlager.

In 1991, Bill married Mary Lou O’Connell, the widow of a respected Evanston physician.  Mary Lou’s family had yet another house in Ireland, this one in County Clare, so Ireland remained very much a destination.  Mary Lou died in 2001.

As an advocate, Bill created powerful images with words.  But he was also an accomplished artist, prolifically painting oil and water color still lives and scenes of Aurora, Chicago, and the many places he visited all over the world.  Bill largely left active politics to others, but he was proud to be an alternate delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where he helped nominate his fellow Harvard graduate, John F. Kennedy ’40, as the Democratic candidate for President. 

Bill was predeceased by Mary Jean (Powers) Murphy (1989), Mary Lou (O’Connell) Murphy (2001), and his younger brother, prominent Aurora attorney J. Robert Murphy (2015).  He is survived by his three children, William (Nancy Richard), Maire Ann (Carl Snider), and Keelin, seven grandchildren, six step-grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.  He is missed by his family, his neighbors, his community, and his colleagues.  As one of his former partners wrote about Bill, “There were many who shared his name; there were more who wished they shared his ability.”

The family especially wishes to thank caregiver Luis Europa, and next door neighbors Jane and Steve Thompson, for their friendship and support. Services have been held.

Illinois Lawyer Now lists obituaries for ISBA members. Please send information, including local newspaper links, to mmathewson@isba.org

Posted on Jan 04, 2017 by Morgan Yingst | Comments (0)
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