She has coffee, toast, orange juice and a vitamin pill before setting out each weekday morning to her job as a legal secretary at Grasso, Rodriguez & Grasso in Schenectady.
Murphy, who turned 96 on Oct. 18, drives to the first of the two buses she takes and finally walks up a hill to be at her office by 8:15.
“I look forward to coming to work,” she told the Echo from her desk at the upstate law firm. She skips lunch and leaves for home again at 3 p.m.
For this almost 35-hour week, Murphy was named New York State’s Outstanding Older Worker for 2008 by Experience Works, a national non-profit organization that trains and advises older people seeking employment. She received her award at a ceremony last month in Washington D.C.
In fact, Murphy hasn’t been out of job in almost 80 years. Back near the beginning of the Great Depression, though, she found that many positions were reserved for men. She did manage to find work nonetheless doing payroll at a garment factory. She was paid $12 a week
“A lot of people were out of work at that time,” she recalled
“People had very little money to buy things,” she said. “They were hard times.”
That was the era of Roosevelt, one of her two favorite presidents. The other is Kennedy.
After passing a civil service test, Murphy did secretarial work at the Schenectady Army Depot during World War II.
“I supervised the shipment of vehicles overseas,” she said.
In 1942, she married John Murphy, a maintenance worker for the city of Schenectady. He was a son of Martin Murphy and Jane McMahon, immigrants from County Cork. “I don’t know what town,” said Murphy who began as life as Clara Bottieri. Her own roots are in the town of Altavilla Irpina, not far from Naples.
She has two sons, James Murphy, a retired Schenectady police officer, and John J. Murphy, a bus driver with CDTA Schenectady.
Both men accompanied their mother to the award ceremony in Washington.
“They call me every day,” said Clara Murphy, who is also a grandmother to three and a great-grandmother to five.
Tragedy struck the family not long after the birth of her younger son. John Murphy Sr. was paralyzed by a stroke. Clara Murphy had to work full-time while also raising her two children and caring for her stricken husband in the years before his death in the late 1950s.
Murphy, who is a graduate of Albany Business School, managed to acquire a variety of skills through difficult times. She considers getting her driving license one of her greatest achievements. But she also earned a rather more remarkable distinction: she was one of the first women in New York State to be licensed as an embalmer and funeral director.
“It didn’t bother me a bit,” she said of that job. “It’s another way of helping people.”
However, it’s her work as a legal secretary for area firms that has kept her busy in recent decades.
“I think elderly people should work if they can,” Murphy said. “It keeps you alert. If you sit at home, it dulls your mind.”
Experience Works agrees that seniors should continue to work if they want to. But the non-profit suggests that many of them are seeking jobs out of necessity in these new hard times. And the job figures seem to back that view. The number of workers who are 65 and over has increased by 434,000 since January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“More and more we are seeing older adults who can’t make ends meet. So they are seeking out employment to help pay for the increasing costs of everyday living,” said Marcia Wilson, Experience Works’ business and community liaison for New York. “For the seniors in our training programs, who are often on fixed incomes, it can come down to a choice between food and medicine. They need to work.”
The non-profit also stresses the positive aspects of being part of the workforce, as of course does Clara Murphy.
“I like work,” she said. “I like to be with people.”