“When you're weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes , I will dry them all.
I'm on your side , oh, when times get rough,
And friends just can't be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”
We’ve heard those words, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel and covered by Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and many others since they were first sung in 1970, countless times. This moving American musical anthem is a symbol for many for the rare and exceptional value of those who not only touch our lives, but give of themselves when we have troubles or are troubled and try to make our world and theirs a better place, one solution – one bridge over troubled water - at a time. Paul Simon’s meaningful musical gift created many lasting memories of those who are and were angels among us.
As I read the newspaper account of the passing of Bob Murray, Falmouth’s legendary champion of housing for all citizens, the peaceful, almost poetic piano introduction of that melodic psalm began playing on my Pandora station. I wept in admiration and gratitude – not in sorrow. I wept and simultaneously smiled, an acknowledgement of the extraordinary gift to this community of the life, passion, and legacy of Bob Murray. Then I smiled solely - in recognition of Bob’s role – as a bridge over troubled water – for so many Falmouthites seeking the basic necessity of a safe and affordable place to live.
Falmouth is rich in diversity. Our cultural influences, from our strong Portuguese and Azorean roots, to our significant Cape Verdean heritage, permeate our community, from Buzzards Bay to Vineyard Sound. Our intellectual diversity, from a rich artistic and creative component, to the hub of research, creativity and life-changing ideas in Woods Hole, is a lynchpin in our local identity. It is our economic diversity – and disparity - though, that Bob Murray saw and worked tirelessly to address. We have heirs of steel barons from the industrial revolution in our midst. We have super-successful dot-com entrepreneurs on our voter lists. We are one of a dwindling number of communities that has a thriving, active, and successful middle class. We also have a not-so-widely known population of hardworking, honest and diligent Falmouthites whose hard work and income just doesn’t mesh with Falmouth’s cost of living and housing market. Some shrug and pretend that dynamic doesn’t exist. Some help as much as they can. Some devote their lives to reversing that trend. Bob Murray was one of those “some” who gave all they had – physically, mentally, and spiritually - so that others could have just a little bit more.
When Bob Murray stood in front of the former Associates of Cape Cod headquarters and thought of its former heyday as the old Surrey Room, later coined “The Steakery” on Main Street, he had his Falmouth housing Kairos moment. As he gazed at the site across from the old Falmouth Theater, now the Carpet Barn, he didn’t see an abandoned former research facility. He saw a solution. He didn’t see a tired industrial site. He saw a way to address that economic disparity that was keeping many locals from piecing together a stable and steady existence. Then, holy shmoly, he made that vision happen.
That was the magic of Bob Murray. He understood – he knew intuitively – that government is not the solution, but it can be the pathway to the solution. He accessed a nominal amount of public funds, then leveraged, flipped and expertly parlayed that seed money into a multi-million dollar labor of love. 704 Main now provides a home for dozens of Falmouthites who work hard supporting our service economy but just don’t earn enough to secure permanent housing. The ripples from his work will continue to spread through our community for generations. Schoolhouse Green was next. In that project, our seniors got the same chance to have a place to call home in their home town.
When asked in an interview a couple of years ago about the role of housing in a community, this successful businessman, who put the daily grind of moneymaking aside for the daily gift of helping others, simply said, ““Housing is a piece of the total puzzle. You can’t solve everything with housing but it’s an anchor in any community.”
Yes, indeed, Bob. And by being a bridge over troubled water for so many of our friends and neighbors, you provided the lifeline to that anchor. From now on, when I hear that piano interlude to begin that wonderful song, I’ll shed another tear of gratitude and utter a silent thank you to the life and legacy of Bob Murray.