Arts activist, volunteer and mom: Barbara Murphy

Barbara Murphy in her home in Uxbridge, Ont. Photo credit: Meagan Secord

“I haven’t had careers at all, I was a stay-at-home mom for obvious reasons, and then when they got old enough so they didn’t need me all day, I’ve volunteered ever since.”

Barbara Murphy has dedicated her life to others. Not just in her home, but outside of it as well.

The 91-year-old arts advocate lives in a bright, art-filled home in Uxbridge, Ont. She is a mother to eight children, grandmother to 23 grandchildren and has six great-grandchildren.

Greg Murphy, Dean of the School of Media, Art & Design and Murphy’s son, says his mom is the reason he got into the arts community.

“It’s exactly because of my mom. I wouldn’t know what I know now if it wasn’t really natural to me as a child,” he says.

Murphy says the arts were always encouraged at home.

“I encouraged that (arts) from day one…and not colouring books, I wouldn’t buy coloring books,” she says. “I didn’t want them to learn to colour in the lines. I’d sooner they do something artistic.”

The Murphy house had a balance of arts and other activities, according to dean Murphy, one of eight children.

“My dad coached hockey when I was a little kid. My dad would take us and play hockey, he’d flood a rink in the backyard and he was a good hockey player,” he says. “Then we’d come in and paint and make stuff. We just thought it was normal.”

Although Murphy says she didn’t have a career other than volunteering, dean Murphy is adamant she did. He says she was an illustrator before getting married and having children.

“She sort of blows it off like it’s no big deal,” says dean Murphy.”It was a very big deal.”

He says his mother was successful right out of college and went on to work for Canadian Art Studios and Templeton Art Studios. She was one of the only women in the studio and in her class at the Ontario College of Art where she studied in 1945, he says.

Pictures of Barbara Murphy when she was younger. Photo credit: Photo provided by Greg Murphy

According to Murphy, all her kids were encouraged to participate in the arts. Some took to it more than others. But they all tried.

She says several of her children still dabble in the arts today, dean Murphy being one of them. He paints and he is an active member of the arts community in Oshawa and at DC.

Two of Murphy’s daughters still do art at home and one of her sons is a part-time actor.

Murphy grew up in the east end of Toronto with four brothers and one sister. She then lived in Scarborough where she and her husband Ted started a family before moving to Uxbridge in 1973.

Barbara Murphy in high school (upper right). Photo credit: Photo provided by Greg Murphy

She says growing up in Toronto isn’t the reason she loves the art community. In fact, she is adamant geography has nothing to do with it.

She and her late husband Ted Murphy were married in 1951 and welcomed their first child, Maureen, the next year.

Barbara Murphy and her late husband Ted Murphy in 1951. Photo credit: Photo provided by Greg Murphy

Volunteering has been a large part of her life and she still volunteers it to this day. Recently, at the age of 85, Barbara traveled to Honduras with Habitat for Humanity and helped to build houses.

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Barbara Murphy's joke pictures to her sister from Honduras. Photo credit: Photo provided by Greg Murphy

She was originally hesitant to go but her nephew, who organized the trip, convinced her she would be a huge help.

She says she has volunteered for organizations such as the Library Board in Uxbridge where she was Chair for ten years. She also volunteered with the Uxbridge Celebration of The Arts and won Uxbridge Citizen of the Year in 1997 for her work in the community.

Currently, she volunteers with The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario and has spent a lot of time looking into the history of the famous writer of Anne of Green Gables.

With the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society, Murphy has assisted in the restoring of her original home. She assisted by raising money and helping with details like house decor that matches the time period.

Murphy’s home in Uxbridge is a ten-minute drive from Leaskdale, which is where Lucy Maud Montgomery’s house is.

“I think if you put a circle around any area you’ll find there’s lots of history,” she says.

Aside from history, she participates in activities such as the Port Perry Dragon Boat festival where she and two other female family members raced in 2007.

Barbara Murphy (top row second from the left) on a dragon boat team with two family members when she was 80 years-old. Photo credit: Photo provided by Greg Murphy

She says the reason she loves volunteering is because she finds helping the community fascinating.

Murphy loves talking about the arts and all the volunteering she has done in her life but when asked what she is most proud of she says, “My children.”

While speaking in great detail about her kids and what they were like growing up, what they’re like now and what they do for a living, Murphy had the biggest smile on her face.

One can only describe the luminous glow of her smile as the face of a very proud mom.