Dr. Douglas B. Murphy, former professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, dies

Dr. Douglas Murphy was also an enthusiastic amateur astronomer.
Dr. Douglas Murphy was also an enthusiastic amateur astronomer. (HANDOUT)

Dr. Douglas B. Murphy, a former professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he helped establish and supervise the school of medicine’s microscope facility, died Sept. 8 from complications of brain cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Mount Washington resident was 74.

“I’ve known Doug a long time, and he was a wonderful colleague and expert,” said Dr. Peter N. Devreotes, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.


“He basically loved imaging small and huge things. Doug loved microscopes and telescopes, and as long as he could bring the unseen into the seen that always made him very happy,” Dr. Devreotes said. “He was very generous with his time in helping people here at the medical school get their images up to par. He was both an expert in microscopy and always was on the cutting edge."

Reed George is senior director of scientific operations at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Campus in Leesburg, Virginia.


“The biggest thing I can say about Doug was that he was a man of science. He was interested in everything both in science and generally,” Mr. George said. “He was a person who was never out for himself.”

Douglas Blakeney Murphy, the son of the Rev. Robert B. Murphy, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Dorothy Brown Murphy, a schoolteacher, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in Syracuse, New York, and Titusville, New Jersey.

After graduating from Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, New Jersey, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1967 from the University of Rochester, and that same year he married his high school sweetheart, the former Christine VanWegen.

In 1973, he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and five years later joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy.


“He also started the microscopy facility for the school of medicine and helped expand that facility,” Dr. Devreotes said.

One of Dr. Murphy’s interests were microtubules, which are “inner cellular structures,” said Dr. Ann L. Hubbard, a Hopkins colleague in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy since 1980 and a professor of medicine.

“Microtubules are fibrous, hollow rods that function primarily to support and shape the cell,” Regina Bailey wrote in ThoughtCo.

“Doug was very enthusiastic about whatever he did and was always very positive,” said Dr. Hubbard, who retired in 2006. “He had a small lab where he did a lot of his work at the bench, and was a very good teacher. Everyone enjoyed him ”

She said that Dr. Murphy was “great when it came to bringing people together. He expected a lot out of his students, that they be on time and respectful, but he was friendly at the same time.”

“While he was a professor, he liked microscopy more than biology,” Mr. George said.

In 2006, Dr. Murphy left Hopkins to become the shared resource director for microscopy at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus.

“He was so into helping people and teaching that it made him the right person for us,” Mr. George said.

“The major thing they do at Howard Hughes Medical Institute is imaging, and for Doug, the opportunity to go there was too much to resist,” Dr. Devreotes said. “We were very sorry when he left, but he kept in touch with us. His death really is a great loss.”

“Doug always a twinkle in his eye and a smile and that showed you immediately who he was,” Mr. George said. “He was not here just for himself, but for people on all levels."

Dr. Murphy was the author of numerous articles on microscopy and was the co-author with Michael W. Davidson of “Fundamentals of Light Microscopy and Electronic Imaging.”

“This book is a huge deal and well-known,” Mr. George said.

He retired in 2013.

If Dr. Murphy was fascinated by the beauty of cells, he was equally captivated by the stars.

As an amateur astronomer and owner of several telescopes, he enjoyed searching and photographing the galaxies.

“His astrophotography was just stunning,” Mr. George said. “He liked coming back to our campus and setting up his telescope and letting us all have a look. He was a man who was truly interested in life."

“He had a lifelong passion for science, the night sky, and the natural world,” his daughter, Ann V. Murphy of Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote in a biographical profile of her father.

Services are private.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Murphy is survived by a son, Blake M. Murphy of Pikesville; and two sisters, Linda Sneed of Portland, Oregon, and Cindy Williams of Naples, Florida.

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