Foggy glass at the entrance to Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloon in East Falls bore a farewell to the owner Tuesday. “I love you, Billy,” it read. Inside, the soft glow of dangling Christmas lights reflected off the wooden countertop as 95.7 BEN-FM played low in the background of the bar.
The few customers who sat around the bar Tuesday afternoon quietly sipped their beer in shared mourning, some teary-eyed when they spoke of the recently deceased owner. William Joseph Murphy passed away last Thursday, Dec. 29, from a heart attack he suffered while driving to work. He was 62.
Friends stepped into the bar to pay their respects to the cheerful community icon, most recalling the last time they saw him. They hugged one another and asked for directions to Tuesday night’s viewing at St. Helena Church in Blue Bell.
Murphy’s younger son, Michael, received the news Thursday morning as he was getting ready for work. “Thankfully, it was instantly,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of suffering.”
His father had an aneuyrism a few years ago, according to Michael.
“He survived that and made a comeback,” said Elaine Lally, one of the bartenders who has worked at the Saloon (known to many as the “Saloonery”) for nearly 30 years.
They began doing more tests on him after that, Michael said. Doctors told Murphy he had a large heart “which everybody joked about because he always had such a good heart,” Michael added.
The love of his life
During that difficult time, his wife, Patricia Crumlish Murphy, began coming into the bar and helping him every morning, according to Lally.
The pair first met in Avalon, NJ at The Princeton bar and grille. Patricia’s parents owned a home there and Murphy was staying with friends in a rental home. Patricia went to The Princeton to visit a friend of her sister’s. She recalls Murphy began sending drinks over and “he just came over and told us his whole life story and pursued me after that.”
It was an unsuitable match, her father felt, since Murphy was a bartender. Patricia’s father was James C. Crumlish, Philadelphia district attorney and president judge of Commonwealth Court.
Murphy grew up at 27th Street and Allegheny Avenue in the rough neighborhood of Allegheny West. He shared a one bedroom apartment with his single mother and sister. His father left at an early age. He graduated from Roman Catholic High School in 1967 and attended Villanova University on a football scholarship until he suffered a knee injury.
Every year, Murphy still ran the “Billy Bowl,” a fundraiser for a scholarship fund for Roman Catholic High School. The funds go to families of children in East Falls who need help paying tuition.
His humor and honesty won Patricia’s heart.
“He was a really good person,” she said adding that during dating years everyone looks for someone special. “He was the one, even though he came from a completely different background than me. He was very gregarious and outgoing and I was a very quiet, reserved person. I never heard him say anything unkind about anyone. He was always looking for the best in everyone.”
The start of the Saloonery
She fought hard to marry him against her father’s wishes, she recalls, and they married in 1976. Then, she sold her car for $2,000 and they bought the bar in East Falls at the corner of Indian Queen Lane and Conrad Street. Murphy had originally named it Greeley’s Steak & Stein and later renamed it Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloonery.
Patricia also got a personal loan from her job at the bank. “It was a good bar. He turned it into something he wanted. It was who he was — open, personable,” she said.
Lally, the daytime bartender, last saw her beloved boss and friend two days before his passing.
“He was the most honest man I ever met,” Lally said. “Best boss I ever had. …He always had a way of making you laugh no matter how bad you felt.”
Longtime friend, customer and repairman Dave Schaeffer, who has frequented the bar for more than 20 years, reminisced about the time Murphy gave him money to take care of his mother who was hospitalized at the time.
“Get back to me when you can. Don’t worry about it. Just take care of your mother,” Schaeffer remembers Murphy told him.
“It was just another great time”
The family spent their last Christmas with Murphy just days before his passing. Christmas Eve they went to Uncle Jim’s in Roxborough and then went to Michael’s brother Billy’s house and exchanged gifts. His sister, Kathleen, flew in from San Diego with her husband.
“It was just another great time. Everybody was laughing,” Michael said.
Murphy is survived by his wife; mother, Margaret; sons Bill and Michael; daughter, Kathleen Gray; a brother; sister and two grandchildren.
The Funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Helena’s Church, 1489 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. Friends may call at 5:30 tonight and 8:30 a.m. tomorrow at the church. The burial will be at Calvary Cemetery.
Friends and family may make donations — in lieu of flowers — to Norwood Fontbonne Academy Development Fund, 8891 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia 19118, or East Falls Sports Association, 3228 Scotts Lane, Philadelphia, 19129.