President Barbara Murphy looks beyond June


Tom Benton

President Barbara Murphy

After 14 years as president of Johnson State College and 32 years of service to the Vermont higher education system, Barbara Murphy will retire on June 30. A celebration of her career is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, beginning at 3:30 p.m. (in the Stearns Dining Hall.

“I’m feeling really sympathetic to the graduates when people say, ‘so, how do you feel? What are you doing next?” said Murphy. “It just feels like this enormous transition that I haven’t fully come to terms with. I’m excited, I’m sad, I’m happy and curious, but at the same time I have this job to do. I really don’t have much time to be contemplating retirement, but it certainly has heightened my appreciation for the work, the college, the students, and the people I work with.”

Murphy was president at CCV for six years before filling the position at JSC, and she says that when she put those two presidencies together, she thought that after 20 years it was someone else’s turn. She’s happy to see the college get some new, fresh leadership.

Murphy wants to take the celebration as an opportunity to thank people, and says that the party will make retirement and the next big change real for her. One of Murphy’s daughters will be there and her son is flying up from New York. She hopes that it will be a gathering of friends, family, colleagues and students, too.

So, what’s next for soon-to-be-former JSC President Barbara Murphy?

“I want to do some writing, and I want to do it in a more disciplined way,” she says. “I kind of just catch a minute when I can right now, and that’s not a way to be a writer. It will be summer and then fall, so I’m excited to be outside a lot as well. I want to visit with some friends I haven’t seen in a while and with family. I also have a big trip planned in the fall.”

Murphy will be flying to Ethiopia for a few weeks with a small group of women. The person who put the trip together, Ellen Dorsch, had a business called Creative Women, which works with women-owned and led studios in Ethiopia, Morocco, and Bolivia, creating textiles to sell around the world. The women would design and make them, and Dorsch would put them in gift shops or sell them online.

Dorsch just sold that business, but is going back to visit and decided to bring a few people with her, including Murphy, who says this will be something good for her as it will take her out of her comfort zone.

The focus of the trip for Murphy will be tourism as well as a study trip to learn about small businesses in other countries with a different set of circumstances and challenges. Murphy says she has been to South Africa, but that is the most evolved country in Africa, so visiting the poor country of Ethiopia will be a “crack your world wide open” kind of trip.

On top of the travelling plans, Murphy also has a poetry book slated for release in May. It’s called “Almost too Much” and features poems that Murphy has written over the course of several years. The cover of the book displays a piece of artwork done by Professor of Fine Arts Ken Leslie.

“I came up with the title,” says Murphy, “and then I had been in Penny Howrigan’s office, and she had that art on her wall. I just thought it worked so well with the words in the title, so I asked Ken if he’d consider letting me use it for my book cover. Then the editor really liked it, and I’m very pleased with how it came out.”

Murphy says she feels honored that a party has been planned to celebrate her retirement, but it’s sometimes hard to be the center of attention.

At its April 9 meeting VSC board of trustees granted Murphy President Emerita status. She doesn’t know if that has happened before for a president in the VSC system, but says it is mostly an honorific board proclamation, and she will always have that attachment to Johnson State.

After her retirement, Murphy is moving to Burlington, which is the first place she lived when she moved to Vermont from Long Island 40 years ago. She says it has kind of been her family’s anchor as it is where her kids grew up.

“It seems like a good place to call Vermont home for now,” Murphy says. “I’m going to miss the mountains so close, and the river so close, but I know they’re here. Johnson has just been a wonderful place to be. I love how hard people work on behalf of this community. You know, how hard everyone worked to bring a grocery store back here, and to repair the bridge. It’s just one of those places that reminds you how vested people are in their communities, how much they care about their schools, and I want to be a part of it.”