One of the life lessons John Murphy learned early was to miss your ride, get the girl’s phone number – and take the subway home.
It all started one Friday evening in 1959.
“My buddy Jim and I would go to dance halls in his car to pick up girls,” John says. “Jim liked to drink, so he would go to the bar and I would dance with the girls.”
They had visited several places without luck, but in the last dance hall, John saw a girl across the room that floored him.
“I had a crush on actress Esther Williams and this girl looked just like a young Esther Williams,” he says. “I thought ‘If I could get a dance with her!’”
They danced. John got her name (Arline) and desperately wanted her phone number, but he didn’t feel the timing was right. So, he went back to Jim in the bar.
“I’m leaving in one more dance,” Jim informed him.
John danced with Arline again, but still didn’t get her number.
“If you want to stay, you’ll have to take the subway home,” Jim announced.
John debated and decided that it was worthwhile to stay, get Arline’s phone number and take the subway.
“So, I stayed there,” he says. “Thank God! It changed my entire life.”
But John’s trials weren’t quite over yet. For three weeks he called Arline for a weekend date but she was always busy. Ignoring his own “three strikes and you’re out rule.” he called a fourth time. Arline agreed to a date. In October 1960 they were engaged and in July 1961 they were married.
People know John under several different names. Growing up in the Bronx, his mother called him Jimmy for his middle name James and his close family knew him as Jimmy. During his long career in sales with Procter & Gamble, he was known as John or “Murf.” And in The Villages, many know him as John.
One of the virtues John loved about Arline was her inability to lie. When the couple were post-career volunteers with Catholic Families, John often told audiences that if we were at war and the enemy knocked on the door and asked “Where’s Murf?”, she would point and say, “He’s hiding in that closet.” Arline laughed and assured John that she’d protect him no matter what.
The early years of their marriage were a financial struggle.
“We had five children in seven years,” John says. “Arline was buried in diapers!”
She also was a fourth-grade teacher and student at Hunter College, graduating with a liberal arts degree when she was seven months pregnant. She later received her Master’s in Special Education.
“Back then I made $72.50 a week and I came home with $58 and change,” John says. “The rent on our first apartment was $66 a month.”
John says their kids would later ask how they were able to survive.
“Sometimes, two or three days before payday, we’d run out of money and we’d have to take bottles to the store and use the deposit to buy baby food,” he says.
John admits that he didn’t realize then how much of a load Arline carried during those years.
I took everything for granted because everything was always done so well,” he says. “And she was still happy. She was the rock.”
Although ill with the first stages of leukemia, Arline completed her book, “The Light of Love,” published by Advantage Books in 2010, which offered first-person Christian advice on relationships targeted to the children of divorced parents. The book was endorsed by Catholic Church leaders and counselors.
Arline’s own parents had divorced when she was very young and she felt traumatized. She also commented on her own marriage to John.
“Even though our marriage has often been frustrating, I can truthfully say I have grown more with my Jimmy than I would have with any other spouse,” she wrote. “By the same token, Jimmy has grown too … Sometimes the struggles and hard times cause one to appreciate the happy times much more.”
John says that Arline had a very positive and unique outlook on life. He recounts how she had become upset when a lady with two children had walked across a street in front of her car without looking and not even responding to her car horn. Later, she saw the woman again and realized that she was deaf and using sign language.
“Arline’s attitude was, ‘Don’t prejudge people. Everybody’s fighting a battle no matter how they look on the surface,’” John says.
In the summer of 2006, John and Arline bought their home in the Village of Sabal Chase.
“I saw an ad for The Villages and within 24 hours three people had told me they knew about the place,” John says. “So, I said, ‘OK, we’ve got to go there.’”
While undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, Arline also was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative neurological disorder.
“She had two fatal illnesses,” John says. “The doctor said to go home and get your affairs in order. She’s not got a lot of time.”
Arline lived for another 11 years at home thanks to 24/7 care from John. Eventually she lost the ability to communicate and died two years ago.
“So, I was married to an earthly saint,” John says. “She was a beautiful person. People felt comfortable and safe around her. She cared more about the other people in her life than about herself,” John adds sadly.
He has collected her notes, photos, a PBS documentary and videos and is seeking a volunteer ghost writer to help him put together a book that will carry her philosophy to a world that, he believes, needs it.
“I want a book that will help people become better human beings – happy, secure and peaceful,” he says, adding that interested authors can email ArlinesLight@yahoo.com for information.
While John says that he represented the “secular” in the marriage, Arline was the spiritual one.
Arline believed in God’s provenance. John recounts an incident at a funeral for her friend.
“It was bucketing rain and I needed to get Arline’s wheelchair out of the car trunk and we had just one umbrella,” he says. “Suddenly there were two men we didn’t know with big umbrellas at the car window asking if we needed help.”
The men helped get Arline near the grave, even handing John his umbrella and levering the wheelchair over a high curb. When John turned to thank them, there was no one there. Arline said they were God’s angels.
“That’s the kind of spiritual person she was,” John says.