Jim Murphy moved to Tucson in 1946. “I was 9 years old when we came out here by train. It was hard; we didn’t know anybody out here and we lived in government housing.”
From then on, Murphy’s career has been in Tucson.
“Thought about it,” he says. “Applied for a couple of things, but never left.”
As a child, Murphy didn’t aspire to a specific career. He started working young, shining shoes at Broadway and Stone Avenue downtown.
“I did it for pocket money — we didn’t have extra because of Dad’s health,” he remembers. Whenever he worked, half of the money he earned would go home for the rest of the family.
Murphy entered the University of Arizona, sampling geology and business but didn’t finish. In later years he thought about becoming an attorney, but family responsibilities challenged that dream.
His first job was with “the phone company” (Mountain Bell) where he worked for 13 years. While there, the political bug bit. Murphy served as union representative, community chest representative and as a precinct committeeman. The political bug would bite deeper.
“I’d been a precinct committeeman and thought I knew something about politics,” he remembers. “I was playing softball when the county and district chairs asked me to run for (Tucson) city council. I didn’t know what I was getting into. My campaign manager was a 19 year old coin collector at the phone company. I ran in the primary and happened to win. In the general election I ran as part of a team of three Democrats.”
Murphy was elected. The year was 1965.
Later, Murphy ran for the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
“I knew what was involved and what I wanted to accomplish,” he said. “I wanted a modern hospital on the south and west side. I wanted equity, fairness and transparency in county government.”
Murphy represented southside District 2 on the Board of Supervisors from 1968 to 1975.
Back then the job of supervisor didn’t pay so well, so Murphy says “I worked as second shift foreman at Kruger manufacturing. I’d leave the county at 4, put on my Levis and work in the shipping department until midnight. I needed the second job.”
But all the while, Murphy stayed focused on health issues.
“Arizona was the only state to decline Medicaid dollars. Instead we taxed ourselves. We lacked quality long-term elderly care,” Murphy said.
He worked within the system at the country hospital and health department and developed alternatives to nursing homes.
In 1975, Murphy moved off the stage as an elected official when he accepted the post of deputy county manager. That’s a position he would hold under various titles for 22 years.
“I don’t move around much,” he says. “In the latter years, I was responsible for health care and several operating departments. I oversaw Kino Hospital, Pima Health Systems, Posada Del Sol Nursing Home and others.
Then in 1997, Murphy retired from Pima County and started working with the Pima Council on Aging. A year later he had developed a program for the organization employing volunteers as ushers and ticket takers for the Spring Training games of the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. He had ideas for other programs to serve the aging population and create better relationships with the business community. To implement those ideas, Pima Council on Aging created the position of corporate relations director, which Murphy accepted.
In 2007, when Marian Lupu, Pima Council on Aging’s founder retired after 40 years, Murphy was appointed the interim chief executive and then in February 2008, after a national search, he was named the permanent president and CEO.
Murphy brought his own priorities, including accessibility by the community and healthy aging. Under his leadership Pima Council on Aging has made measurable progress in both areas.
He attributes his success to “growing up in Catholic schools where there’s a sense of community and fairness. It taught me to give timely notice, encourage and motivate people, and give people tools they need to succeed.”
He emphasizes financial skills and, not surprisingly, values bringing people together internally and in external partnerships. He also values vision.
“We need to look forward to fill gaps in services with the resources available,” he says.
To that end Pima Council on Aging created an ambassador program that enlists volunteers in churches, homeowner associations, libraries and other places, who serve as information resources and conduits for information. Today, 130 ambassadors maintain connections with more than 200 groups, including many of Tucson’s ethnic populations.
Murphy thrives on feedback from employees and clients, citing one occasion where an attorney sent a check for $1,000 because of how helpful the staff of Pima Council on Aging had been.
“Fulfillment comes from recognizing that someone’s life is better because we are here, although thoughtful gifts are also welcomed,” he says. But there are challenges. “We need to ensure that staff remains in the game even though times are difficult economically.”
If anything keeps Murphy up at night it’s “wanting to get more done. We can’t continue to rely on government, and our development efforts and foundation will take time to come up to speed. We have unfunded positions important to the organization that we’re unable to fill at this time.”
For someone considering nonprofit leadership Murphy advises: “Understand the environment of the position and the role of nonprofits in the community or you may struggle. Apply sound business principles and be prepared for the culture. Go into the job with eyes wide open.”
Murphy wants you to know Pima Council on Aging needs volunteers and resources.
“We welcome in kind services and cash donations,” he says. “We are good stewards who spend our money well and have a proven record for being creative and doing good things with the resources we get.”
Pima Council on Aging
8467 E. Broadway
Administrative/business office: (520) 790-0504
Helpline: (520) 790-7262
Contact Gary Hirsch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (520) 225-0373 to suggest a CEO or business owner for a future “Inner-view.” Hirsch is a group chair and executive coach with Vistage International - www.vistage.com - and leads a group of CEOs, company presidents and business owners who meet monthly. CEO Inner-view appears the second and fourth weeks of each month in Inside Tucson Business.