Tom Murphy died late Monday of complications from a stroke he suffered more than three years ago. He will lie in repose at the state Capitol on Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday. Perdue said Murphy's family had initially wanted to have private services, but they were persuaded that a public ceremony was needed for a man whose legacy stretches from one end of the state to the other.
When Murphy lost his final re-election bid in 2002, he was the longest serving speaker in the nation. The lawyer from Bremen had attained near legendary status as a political power broker for a Democratic Party that had ruled the state since Reconstruction. His career had spanned five Democratic governors - from Jimmy Carter to Roy Barnes.
Murphy's defeat signaled a sea change in Georgia politics, which is now firmly in Republican hands.
Perdue said on Tuesday that Murphy cultivated a tough-guy image, but that he was also "a gentle giant" who labored to help the most vulnerable Georgians.
"While he loved the external, gruff persona, I had the opportunity on several occasions to see his heart," Perdue said at a state Capitol news conference on Tuesday.
"There was a very compassionate heart underneath that exterior that really understood what government ought to be about, and that's meeting the needs of individual people."
Murphy was remembered fondly from leaders on both sides of the political aisle on Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle praised Murphy's leadership and commitment to the state of Georgia.
"He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, you could count on his words being truthful. Murphy will mark our history books as a political legend and will be remembered as one who took care of his caucus," Cagle said. "Speaker Murphy will always be remembered for his service to our great state and commitment to do all he could to provide a better life for all Georgians."
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, first went to the House in 1994 as a Democrat. He said his early notions about Murphy were proven wrong.
"He was always very cordial and respectful to me," Rogers said. "The first time we met, he said, ‘Now, Carl, don't you lie to me.' I said, ‘I won't Speaker Murphy and I ask you to do the same to me.'"
Perdue and Barnes - who agree on very little - credited Murphy with helping keep the state on firm financial footing.
Current House Speaker Glenn Richardson, a Republican, called him "a great leader."
"His is truly a legacy beyond words," Richardson said.
The chamber's Democratic Caucus Chairman Calvin Smyre said the state had lost a true hero.
"If there was list of all of the good things that Tom Murphy did in his public career for the state it would stretch over 400 miles from Lookout Mountain in North Georgia to St. Marys in South Georgia," Smyre said.
The Murphy family has asked that donations be made to the Speaker Thomas B. Murphy Memorial Fund at the University of West Georgia to construct a replica of Murphy's Capitol Office.
The address for donations is: Speaker Thomas B. Murphy Memorial Fund, University of West Georgia Foundation Inc., 1601 Maple St., Carrollton, Ga. 30118.