New London officials remember 'unsung hero' William 'Murph' Murphy

New London — Co-workers of the late William J. "Murph" Murphy say the New London native knew just about every inch of the city — above and below ground.

His institutional knowledge came from his decades of work with the city’s sanitation and water department and made him an invaluable asset to Veolia, the water company he began working for 12 years ago, when the city started contracting out that work.

Murphy, 65, died on Jan. 4 due to complications associated with cancer. Aside from his accomplishments as a volunteer firefighter and mentor to many of the city’s career firefighters, Murphy might best be remembered for averting a disaster and shutdown of the city.

Murphy’s boss, Veolia project manager Peter Vetter, said it was in 2014 when it was discovered that the water system was mysteriously losing millions of gallons of water — dangerously close to the total of 12 million gallons a day that the city can produce.

The city was producing all it could to meet demand and yet its tank levels still were dropping.

“The water reserves we had were starting to dwindle,” Vetter recalls.

He said Veolia had a helicopter lined up to aid in the search for what had to be a massive leak in the water system. Former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio had prepared for the worst, contacting state authorities for shipments of bottled water and other supplies, declaring a state of emergency, opening an emergency operations center and issuing orders that citizens avoid all nonessential water use.

Enter Bill Murphy.

Just as the situation was getting dire, Murphy went off on his own, having recalled that decades ago the city used to flood a pond in Bates Woods for ice skating in the winter. He hiked out into Bates Woods and sniffed out what proved to be a broken underwater valve and the source of the leak.

“It was his institutional knowledge from years and years of working on the city’s infrastructure that allowed him to put the pieces together," Vetter said. "He went out of his way to serve the city. Everything that we encounter he’s encountered 10 times before.”

A few hours longer and water officials said businesses and residents in both New London and Waterford would have been without clean water for the next month.

Mayor Michael Passero called Murphy an “unsung hero.” Joe Lanzafame, director of the city Public Utilities Department, called Murphy’s death “a big loss.”

Murphy was a 1972 graduate of New London High School and a well-known figure at the fire department, having served for many years as a volunteer.

Former Fire Chief Henry Kydd remembers Murphy was always the interior firefighter, aggressive and someone his fellow firefighters could count on. Murphy, even after the transformation of the department into all paid firefighters, was a frequent visitor to the firehouse, where he would catch up with his former colleagues.

Fire Chief Thomas Curcio called Murphy “A true mentor for me when I was a young firefighter starting out.”

Despite being known as a private guy, Murphy had a sense of humor.

When Curcio started taking classes at the University of Connecticut, it elicited some teasing from Murphy and a nickname: “Joe College.”

“’Kid,’ he would tell me, ‘you can’t put out a fire with a book,’” Curcio said.

Murphy is survived by his brothers, Mike, of Oakville and John, of Virginia; a sister, Mary, of Florida; as well as numerous nieces and cousins.

A celebration of life will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 189, 110 Garfield Ave., in New London.

g.smith@theday.com

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