Carl Edward Murphy Smith Was ‘Simply Amazing on so Many Levels’

by: Rev. Dorothy Boulware Special to the AFRO
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Everyone wants to be known as a person for all seasons, one who embraces life fully and makes the world a lot better just by having been present.

It seems Carl Edward Murphy Smith was such a man; maybe not in his own sight, but in the hearts and minds of his family.

Carl Edward Murphy Smith

“I think of him first, as a man of mystery,” said Qiana Smith Gabriel, daughter of Smith, who died Dec. 15 after a lengthy illness.

“He was anything you could think of but nothing you’d actually expect of a man who matured in the 60’s,” she said. 

“And when he would tell his stories, I’d always respond, ‘No you didn’t do that. No you weren’t there.”

Gabriel still finds it hard to believe the impact her father had, as a businessman, a registered lobbyist and much more. 

“Can you believe him skiing in the Swiss Alps, traveling for business meetings in Berlin? With White people? And it wasn’t as if he was trying to pass, with his six foot tall self, sporting a huge Afro,” she added.

In fact, his son, Blair Carl Smith, called his father the “most well travelled man I knew.”  

He seemed to be a larger than life figure to everyone who knew him.

Marsha Rose Joyner said she and Carl Edward had a lifetime together from the time they were little children in the 1940s WWII Baltimore until his last days in hospice.

“Our mothers, Elizabeth Murphy Oliver and Ida Murphy Smith Peters, respectively, worked at the AFRO, so every day we went to the Mission Helper’s day school on Bethel Street. The nuns would walk us to public school 122 in the morning and pick us up at the end of the day,” Joyner said.

“Although I’m the oldest of the Murphy great grandchildren, Carl Edward was the tallest so he became my protector.”

He was much more than a mere cousin, it was said of Smith who had the distinction of having been the among the oldest of the Murphy cousins. “He was the big cousin we all looked up to, “ said the Rev. Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, pastor of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church in Baltimore. “He was a faithful friend who cherished our family.”

AFRO publisher and cousin, Jake Oliver, called him “our idol. He was the giant we all wanted to grow up to be.”

Another cousin, Robert Murphy Matthews Sr. called him, “our go-to guy for Murphy family history,” also remembering Smith as “all our babysitter.”

The African-American community is largely familiar with the Murphy family through the AFRO-American Newspaper, the longest, continuously operating, family owned Black publication in this country. 

Smith is the oldest great grandson of AFRO founder, John H. Murphy Sr., the ex slave who started the paper in 1892 and decreed that members of the family would always find employment with the family business.

He also had the distinction of being the only grandson for 10 years. This gave him plenty of time to shadow his grandfather, then AFRO publisher, Dr. Carl Murphy Sr. who often intervened within the community to mobilize leadership on behalf of the community at large.

“As a boy, he’d sit in on AFRO board meetings and take the minutes,” Blair Smith said. “I’m sure this gave him the insight and maybe even the courage to go travel the world for business or just on his own.”

Smith’s mother was the company’s first Mrs. Santa and the entertainment editor, just a couple of the hats she wore.

His sister, the Right Rev. Vashti Smith Murphy McKenzie, also pursued a career in communications and media, and ministry before becoming the first woman to serve as bishop in the AME Church.

But beyond family, his impact was felt in the business world through his expansive career with Verizon, formerly Bell Atlantic. He retired as a registered lobbyist and external affairs manager in Annapolis.

And as someone who cared deeply about the community, especially the African-American community, Smith was a founding member of 100 Black Men of Maryland, a member of The Rotary Club of Baltimore, and a Golden Heritage member of the NAACP. He was also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

“He loved his fraternity,” said Blair Smith, also a Kappa.

“He pledged in 1959 and I in 1987, and he was there for my going over ceremony,” Blair Smith said.

“He often spoke to how Kappa community service had been a huge influence in his life, fraternity brothers, line brothers in particular.”

The Frederick Douglass High School graduate attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison after earning his undergraduate degree in history and political science at Morgan State University where his grandfather, as chair of the board of regents presented his diploma. Smith often touted it as one of his proudest moments. 

By no means the end of his education, Smith embraced lifelong learning with membership in Leadership Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties as well as being an executive exchange fellow assigned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the Wharton School. He also participated three years in the St. John’s College Executive Seminar series.

His education really paid off, according to Gabriel.

“My dad was the smartest man I’ve known. Throughout my life I could ask him any question on any topic and he knew something of value about it,” she said.

“Even as I got older, I would challenge him and Google his answers, but he was always right.”

She said he was simply amazing on so many levels.

“I don’t know how I’ll move through life without him.”

Joyner said, as well, how empty her mornings are, without their morning texts.

“While I miss him, I’m grateful the suffering is over.”

A Celebration of Life service will be held beginning at 11 a.m. for the family hour, with the service following at noon, Jan. 6, 2018 at Payne Memorial AME Church, 1714 Madison Ave., Baltimore, MD 21217.  

An additional memorial service was held in St. James, North Carolina on Thursday January 4, 2018.  In lieu of flowers donations may be made to The First Tee at http://www.thefirsttee.org./

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