Cook County Commissioner Joan Murphy received her breast cancer diagnosis on a Friday in 2012 — one day before she would host more than 50 family members for a reunion.
“She didn’t tell anyone,” said Tricia Murphy, her daughter.
She finally confided in her daughter a year later. But after “she cheated death a couple times” — and fought to serve as a super delegate this summer for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — the longtime local politician died “very peacefully” Sunday morning at the Crestwood home where she raised her family, her children said. She was 79.
“She was a true public servant,” her son, Tim Murphy, said.
A Cook County commissioner for the 6th District since 2002, Murphy began her political career as the elected clerk of Crestwood in 1965, at a time when “there weren’t many women in any political office,” her son said.
She was later elected clerk of Worth Township in 1977 and supervisor of Worth Township in 1989. She also worked as a stewardess for United Airlines in the 1950s and later as a real estate broker. She was born in South Boston.
“A discerning ear could still pick up on some inflections of that unique dialect when she spoke, and Joan often joked that she was working hard on her Cook County accent,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wrote in a statement announcing Murphy’s death.
Cook County Commissioner John P. Daley wrote in his own statement that “Joan advocated for a greater role for women in government and she was very proud of the Democratic Party’s recent nomination of Hillary Clinton for President.”
In a statement, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin wrote that Murphy “was an outstanding public servant committed and dedicated to her constituents. She was a champion for labor and working families. Her voice and passion will be missed on the Board.”
Murphy had four children and was married to her late husband, Don, for 43 years. Her children said she often worked behind the scenes helping constituents: “No one would know how she helped so many people,” Tim Murphy said.
Tricia Murphy said her mother also “didn’t want anyone to know at all” about her cancer diagnosis.
Her Christmas tree never came down last year. Murphy insisted she would “be there to light it next year,” her daughter said. But even more powerful was Murphy’s desire to serve as a superdelegate for Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major political party.
“She was there,” Tim Murphy said. “She worked very, very hard to get there. That was one of the pinnacles of her career.”
Tricia Murphy said her mother “really likes Hillary.” But after serving as an early pioneer in the boys’ club of politics in the mid-20th century, Murphy also appreciated the significance of sending a woman to the White House, her daughter said.
So the family put a photograph of Murphy and Clinton in her family room. Taped to it was the date of Democratic National Convention, July 25. And Tricia Murphy said that served as her mother’s inspiration do physical therapy, to do laps around the house, and to follow the doctors’ orders so she could “keep fighting” and witness history.
“She was hard as nails and soft as a marshmallow at the same time,” Tricia Murphy said.
Services are pending.