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JoAnn Murphy, educator, school board member, dies

Jo Ann Murphy was president of the Baltimore County Board of Education.
Jo Ann Murphy was president of the Baltimore County Board of Education. (Brendan Cavanaugh/P Imaging Inc / Patuxent Publishing)

JoAnn M. Murphy, a career Baltimore County public school educator who later became the second woman to head the the county school board, died Saturday from complications associated with liver disease at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.

The former Parkton resident, who lived in Cockeysville, was 74.

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“JoAnn was a brilliant person and early on was a pioneer in the area of staff and human relations when she was in Baltimore County Public Schools’ central office. She was a real pioneer,” said Robert Y. Dubel, a Glen Arm resident who was superintendent of county public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992. “She was a lovely person, was well-liked by everyone, and made a real contribution.”

Joe A. Hairston was head of Baltimore County public schools from 2000 to 2012.

“JoAnn was a lady of integrity and was well-respected when she served as president of the school board. She was a great leader and educator,” said Mr. Hairston, a Reisterstown resident.

“She was very articulate and a tremendous communicator. She always made people around her feel comfortable,” Dr. Hairston said. “She was a tremendous lady, and her death is a tremendous loss,” he said.

“She gave her heart and soul to whatever she did,” said Anthony G, Marchione, who served as superintendent of county schools from 1995 to 2000 and lives in Hunt Valley. “She was very competent and you could rely on her to get the job done. She could work with all kinds of people from all types of backgrounds."

The former JoAnn Marie Cechin was the daughter of John Cechin, a Hedstrom Co. maintenance worker, and his wife, Denise Gallant Cechin, a Seth Thomas Clock Co. assembly line worker.

Born and raised in Fitchburg, Mass., where she graduated in 1962 from St. Bernard’s Central Catholic High School, Mrs. Murphy earned a bachelor’s degree in 1966 from what is now Fitchburg University.

While at St. Bernard’s, she fell in love with Joseph F. Murphy Jr., a lawyer, who later served as chief judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals from 1996 to 2007, and ended his judicial career in 2011 after serving for four years as a judge on the state Court of Appeals.

“JoAnn was a sophomore and I was a junior,” said Judge Murphy, who married his high school sweetheart in 1966.

“She was an extremely humorous person,” said Meg M. O’Hare, who served on the county school board when Mrs. Murphy was president. “When she was in college in order to earn book money, she worked as a go-go dancer in a local pub.”

“Baltimore County public schools always sent recruiting teams to New England and because JoAnn was way up in her class, she had a job before she ever set foot in Maryland,” recalled Judge Murphy.

Mrs. Murphy began teaching in Baltimore County public schools in 1966 when she joined the faculty of Overlea High School, where she taught English and journalism.

“She was an excellent teacher from the beginning," Dr. Dubel said.

From 1972 to 1974, when she joined the central office, Mrs. Murphy was chairwoman of the English department at Loch Raven High School.

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“I was working in the central office under Bob Dubel and we needed someone to do our publications, and it was JoAnn, who was then at Loch Raven, who responded to our notice,” Dr. Marchione said.

She went on to supervise programs in community relations, public information and human resources.

Another of Mrs. Murphy’s responsibilities was coordinating an exchange program with schools in Grosseto, Italy, that had been established by Dr. Marchione.

“We’d have 150 students and teachers going to Grosseto with an equal number coming to Baltimore County for three months,” Dr. Marchione said. “And when my responsibilities changed, JoAnn took over and was so dedicated to it. She was so dedicated to it that she even learned Italian.”

After retiring in 1994, Mrs. Murphy served as a member of the board of the Hannah More School and was president of the Maryland Volunteer Network.

In 2005, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed Mrs. Murphy to a five-year term on the Baltimore County school board, and two years later she was elected its president, the second woman in the post, her husband said.

"She served as president the last three years of her term until she retired in 2010,' her husband said.

“I have a long history [with Baltimore County], and I just felt this year it would be helped to have someone with curriculum background,” Mrs. Murphy said in a 2007 interview with the now-defunct Examiner.

When new members joined the board, Mrs. Murphy said it wouldn’t take them long to grasp its mission.

“For us, it’s all about student achievement, so whatever we get into has to have a bearing on that,” she told The Baltimore Sun in 2008. “Regardless of the makeup of the board, that’s going to be the focus. There may be different ways the board feels about how we get there, but that’s still the focus.”

“She was president when I joined the board in 2006. She did everything ethically and professionally and the students were her focus," Mrs. O’Hare said. “She was very smart, a great collaborative leader and never let the politicians interfere. She led the board by example and had a great sense of character.”

She added: “JoAnn always did the right thing — that’s what I loved about her. It was always about everyone else.”

Mrs. Murphy, who enjoyed writing, was a member of the Wednesday Writers group founded in 1997 by Elizabeth L. “Betty” Walter, a former Towson High School English and drama teacher.

She had completed a novel based on her teaching days at Overlea High School.

“She had a lot of life experiences which she brought to it,” Mrs. O’Hare said, who added, that while teaching at Overlea, Mrs. Murphy has been a contestant on “Jeopardy.' "

“But she didn’t win,” Mrs. O’Hare said.

In addition to reading and writing, she enjoyed working out at the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium.

“JoAnn had a great flair for dress and even had a pair of red cowboy boots,” Mrs. O’Hare said, with a laugh. “Your day was always a little lighter when you were around her.”

A lighthearted person, Mrs. Murphy loved her dog and had “a stuffed moose which she’d dress up for the holidays,” Mrs. O’Hare said.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered Friday at the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori, 114 W. Saratoga St., Baltimore.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Murphy is survived by her daughter, Erin Catherine Murphy of Sparks, and two grandchildren.

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