Milton Vance Murray, who during his four-decade career as a teacher and later as an elementary school principal remained a steadfast champion of academic excellence, died from complications of Alzheimer's disease Oct. 5 at FutureCare Lochearn. He was 87.
Mr. Murray was born in Baltimore and raised in Pigtown. As a child, he showed an early interest in books.
"He was reading by the time he was 3," said his niece, Gloria Murray White of Northwest Baltimore, a retired Social Security Administration supervisor. "And for the rest of his life, he had books piled upon books in his Norfolk Avenue home."
"I remember it so clearly when he taught me how to read when I was a child and taking me to see The Wizard of Oz," Mrs. White said.
Her uncle brought her copies of The Brownies' Book, Mrs. White said, which was a magazine for African-American children published in the early 1920s by W.E.B. DuBois and Augustus Granville Dill.
In addition to reading, Mr. Murray also developed in his youth a lifelong appreciation of writing, theater and movies.
"When we first met in junior high school, what thrilled me was that Milton was so smart and creative," said Charlotte B. Watkins, a retired city elementary school educator.
"At Douglass, we had an oral English class and every week Milton wrote the plays that we performed in the classroom. He always had great ideas and his plays were so good that we used to tell him that he should go to Hollywood," Mrs. Watkins said.
After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in 1938, he enrolled at what is now Coppin State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1942.
Mr. Murray then began his 40-year career teaching in city public schools.
Because African-Americans were barred from graduate programs at the University of Maryland until after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision, he traveled by train on weekends to New York City to attend Columbia University, where he earned a master's degree in education.
Mr. Murray was promoted to vice principal and later was principal of Homewood, Furman L. Templeton and Morrell Park elementary schools, from which he retired in 1982.
"Milton was admired by his staff, students and parents. He was the type of educator who always put the needs and desires of the children first," his niece said. "He was a great encourager, always pushing them to excel. He was a master at this."
Mr. Murray's success in working with young children brought him widespread recognition, his niece said.
"His motto was 'Students first and foremost always,' " Mrs. White said.
Mr. Murray loved to dance and had a staggering collection of 78-rpm recordings from the Big Band-era.
"He had piles, for instance, of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Jimmy Lunceford, and Dorsey Brothers and Billie Holiday recordings," his niece said.
"He always went to shows at the old Royal Theater. If he heard that Billie Holiday was playing at the Royal or at an Edmondson Avenue night club, he was in the front row," she said, laughing.
"He had a thing about Billie Holiday and couldn't stand it when Diana Ross played her in Lady Sings the Blues. For him, it would have taken a very, very special person to play that role," Mrs. White said.
Services were Thursday.
Also surviving are a nephew, Geoffrey A. White of San Francisco; and many cousins and friends.