Monday, October 15, 2012

The Kansas City Milkman

Marc Murdock, a longtime teacher at Kansas City’s Jesuit high school, Rockhurst, died recently.

I never had Marc Murdock for a class. How I missed chemistry or, especially, algebra with him I do not know. His obit states that he “scared the quadratic equation into hundreds, even thousands, of young men.”  But given my abilities in math, I doubt that even he could have scared the material into me, and my academic life might well have ended in his classroom.

But because I was on the staffs of Rockhurst’s monthly news magazine, Prep News, and the yearbook, The Chancellor, however, I did have frequent association with him. He took most of the photographs for both publications, and he was moderator of the yearbook. He was a very nice fellow, and I liked him and got along well with him.

At least until one morning during Christmas vacation of my senior year. Yearbook staff members were supposed to be at school that day to work on the book. But as dedicated to journalism as I was, I was crazy in love with the enchanting Helen Mary D'Arcy, and vacation time was better spent with her, at her house, my teen-age reasoning went, than with a bunch of other guys in that dank basement room at Rockhurst that was allotted to the yearbook (I still think so).

At some point there was a knock on the back door.


Helen Mary’s mother asked if I would get the door.

When I opened it, I came face to face with the milkman from Country Club Dairy: Marc Murdock.  A 25-year-old high school teacher with a family that would grow to 12 children, he delivered milk during vacation periods, and the families of a good number of his students were on his varied routes. On that day, he was delivering in the Indian Hills area of suburban Johnson County.

Mr. Murdock was not happy to see me, nor I him.

"Aren't you supposed to be at the school?" he asked. I said I was, or maybe I just nodded sheepishly. He handed me the milk and whatever else he was delivering and left.

Mr. Murdock never said word after that about my being A.W.O.L., and I continued to work on the yearbook up to the time we sent it to the printer. My picture appeared in the staff photos in the book.  

At the honors assembly in the spring, however, when staff members were called to the front, one by one, and awarded golden lapel pins for their work, my name was not called.

So while I never had Mr. Murdock as a teacher, he taught me a good lesson—one  that Woody Allen put in  words years later, and one that I passed on to my students occasionally: "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

A footnote. Ten years later, when I was working for United Press International, I picked up a novel about journalists with a foreign bureau of a fictional news agency. It was The Kansas City Milkman, written by a former United Press foreign correspondent. It took its title from an admonition to a rookie correspondent from the fictional bureau chief, though it was supposedly once spoken by a real-life UP editor: "And remember, you are writing so it can be understood by the Kansas City Milkman. If the Kansas City Milkman can't understand it, the dispatch is badly written."  I still have that book, and I've occasionally thought of  my vacation-day encounter with Mr. Murdock, that vacation-time Kansas City milkman, when I have glanced over and seen  it on the shelf.

And a footnote to that. If you have seen the movie Broadcast News, you will remember that there is a flashback in which William Hurt's anchorman character is shown as a boy with his father—a  Kansas City milkman.

R.I.P. Mr. Murdock.


beatstalkingtomyself said...

Interesting how a teacher can leave such an impression without "teaching." Thanks for the wonderful story of Mr. Murdock's indelible lesson.

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A friend of mine at a large Denver firm is enjoying her sabbatical and praises her firm's forward-looking approach to time. But most firms won't, not until a new generation of lawyers forces them into it. For now, the obsession with the billable hour and the fierce competition for business make sabbaticals an unlikely firm benefit.
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