George B. Murray, SJ, MD died in the early morning on Monday 18 November 2013. His death was sudden, not unexpected but shocking nonetheless. He was 82 years old. He had a number of chronic medical conditions. Over the past twelve or so months an almost dizzying array of acute and subacute medical problems began to complicate his life. He bore the illnesses with his usual humor and grace. He detested anything that might be construed as whining or self-pity in his fellows. He didn't whine either though he had every reason to do so.
We never know the hour or the day. Thus, even when death comes in old age after a gradually deteriorating medical course, it is always a shock to those who were close to and loved the one who died. Murray's death came as a shock to a great many people, particularly his former consultation psychiatry fellows, the residents and students who trained under him, his colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital, former patients and the world of consultation psychiatry in general. The phone calls and e-mails have come fast and furious from former fellows and other Jesuits who were aware of the depth of our friendship, though it was a relationship that can hardly be described by that rather pallid word.
I met George on 1 May 1991 when I picked him up at the Philadelphia International Airport. He had agreed to give grand rounds to the psychiatry department at Temple. I was just entering my final year of psychiatry training and had just begun as chief resident. While I was planning to apply for a fellowship in consultation psychiatry, Mass General was not on the radar screen. Until 1 May 1991. By the time we passed the Art Museum and zipped up Kelly Drive toward Temple University Hospital I knew one thing. I had to train with this man.
Because there was no drug company lunch that day (I did however talk of the reps to funding the grand rounds which is why I didn't ask for lunch) George met with the residents for an hour and I then took him to lunch at the restaurant on the same block as my apartment. It was a jazz-themed restaurant with good food. It was also quiet and, of course, I had parking in apartment garage. I did not know at the time that George was "an old jazz drummer." Over lunch we figured out that we knew a number of people in common, most of whom were in religious vows (I was only beginning to think perhaps maybe in my wildest dreams of applying to the Society of Jesus). By coffee and desert I told him I wanted to apply to his program. He looked stricken when he noted that he was already full for July. I explained that I still had a year to go. "Write to me after 1 July." I did so just after 4 July.
About a week later I returned to my apartment at 17th and Callowhill on a Friday afternoon to find a letter from MGH. It was from George. I read it, put it down, and changed into running clothes. Read the letter again. Went for a six-miler. Came back and read the letter again. And then I called my twin brother and told him I was going to read a letter and asked him to give me his read. He said, "Sounds like he already decided to take you." I replied, "That is what I thought. Just wanted some confirmation."
I flew to Boston on 12 September for an interview on Friday 13 September. Best Friday the Thirteenth in history. Midway through our interview, which followed a memorable one with Ned Cassem, SJ, MD, chief of psychiatry at the time, George looked at me as if he were lining up a shot at the shooting range and asked, "Do you want to come here?" I replied, "Yes." He said, "I'm tough." I said, "No shit." He ended with "Get a Massachusetts license by July."
George's fellowship was unique. He founded it in 1978 and directed it full-time until a few years ago. By the time he retired he had trained 102 fellows mostly on his own. His didactic methods would be frowned upon by politically-correct, mealy-mouthed, liberals of academe. His fellows thrived. George turned us, in the words of Former Fellow Beatriz Currier, MD, "into the kind of psychiatrist I wanted to be but didn't know how to become." We worked hard. Many consults per day. Vast amounts of reading for which he expected us to be prepared. But he worked even harder for us.
His mark on the world of consultation psychiatry (or consultation-liaison if you must, though he loathed the word liaison) is indelible. He published ninety papers, many with his fellows. In his younger years he lectured widely and was sought after because of both his medical acumen as well as his ability to use humor in memorable ways. His mark on his fellows is even more indelible.
I will post the funeral homily and readings over the weekend. At the moment exhaustion from the arrangements, writing a difficult homily, and meeting with many former fellows at the wake this afternoon is taking a toll. By the time tomorrow ends there will be little energy left.
He will be missed, he is already missed, but his legacy will continue for generations.