George Murphy’s lost weekend

Work in Progress

By Ivan Morgan

I thought of George Murphy this past twenty-fourth of May weekend.    I was friends with George since we were both young fellows. Not close friends, but we kept in touch over the years, our bond being our mutual sick obsession with the politics of this place.    George and I had both been weaned on politics. My first political campaign was holding my Father’s hand as we went door to door helping to get John Crosbie elected to St. John’s City Council. I was six years old.     George cut his teeth with the Liberal Party.   We both loved politics but were never on the same side until years ago, disillusioned with the Liberal Party, he decided to join the NDP.  I was working for them at the time and was delighted to have George in the mix.   Our first night campaigning door to door (in a by-election in Conception Bay East-Bell Island), I was astonished. Everyone knew “The Gas Man.”  On every single doorstep – every single one without exception – he was recognized. I’d never seen the like (haven’t since) and I’ve campaigned with a lot of well-known people.    Street after street, night after night, I waited for someone not to know him.    I remember the laugh we had when a family of Sudanese refugees answered the door. They hadn’t been in Newfoundland three months. Their English wasn’t strong, and they couldn’t yet vote, but they knew George from the TV. Seriously.   Just because people knew him didn’t mean they’d vote for him, though. He lost that by-election, but undaunted he decided to run for the NDP in St. John’s East in 2011.    The election was slated for early September, so we decided to campaign at the Regatta. George was in his element, laughing and joking with people.   As we were walking past The Bandstand, some punk in jeans and a black leather jacket came up behind me and shoved me, hard, on my shoulder as he passed by. “Hey! Watch it,” I said.    The punk turned around. It was a smiling Danny Williams, who had quit as PC Premier the year before. Looking up at him he said “George, you’re going to make an excellent MHA,” and as quick as that turned and disappeared into the crowd.   I still remember the look on George’s face. He just stood there, stock still, gobsmacked. After a few seconds he looked at me “Did that just happen?” Yes it did, my friend.   That was the first time George thought he might actually win. He did win and he then started a rocky term as an NDP MHA.  I worked for him and the others.   He loved being an MHA, but he had no stomach for party infighting. He was part of the big, nasty NDP implosion which happened when a letter written to the leader signed by George and the other three MHAs was made public.   So why did I think of him this past Victoria Day weekend?   It’s too long a story for here, but in early 2014 the NDP had to, on short notice, call a convention. The only available weekend for which they could find a venue was the 24th of May holiday.   George was horrified, but as an MHA he had to show up. We both did.   To many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, especially of my generation, that weekend is sacred. It was to George.   And like this weekend just passed, that Saturday was glorious. Absolutely perfect weather. Poor George was utterly rotted. I can see him now sitting forlornly in the Holiday Inn ballroom.   NDPers take their conventions seriously, and it was a day full of intense political debate. Few of those attending cared that it was the 24th of May. George did. He really did.   I sat with him and tried to cheer him up. We listened as debate went on for hour after hour. Issue after issue. Speaker after speaker. His heart wasn’t in it. He was missing his beloved 24th, thinking of trout he wasn’t catching, sun he wasn’t basking in, kids he wasn’t playing with.   At one point he looked at me, “I’m never getting this back, am I?”   As many of you know, George died suddenly last year.   I don’t know what, if anything, comes after this life, but I’d like to think he has been making up for that lost weekend.   Wherever he is, I can tell you where he isn’t – in a dingy hotel listening to people arguing over policy.

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