Las Vegas Sun

February 1, 2015

A witness to history

Lifelong Nevadan to be buried in historic St. Thomas Cemetery

Laurence Murphy

Laurence Murphy


In 1933, Laurence Murphy’s mother selected the spot in Overton where the St. Thomas Cemetery would be moved once the farming community was flooded by the waters of Lake Mead.

Over the years, Murphy, the youngest of 11 children, took care of the cemetery that overlooked his birthplace, erecting cement borders around the family plot and maintaining the site until the city took over the responsibility.

On Friday, Murphy will be buried in Overton, about 60 miles north of Las Vegas, with his parents and siblings. He died March 21 in Henderson at the age of 79.

Murphy saw much of Southern Nevada history unfold in those 79 years, his family said.

He was born March 10, 1930, one year before construction began on Hoover Dam and five years before his family was forced to move by the rising waters of Lake Mead after the dam was completed.

“There was kind of a lot of gloom among people living there, knowing that their farms were going to be flooded,” said Afton Murphy Powers, three years older and Murphy’s only surviving sibling. “It took the enthusiasm out of a lot of things.”

Still, Murphy retained fond memories of his childhood in St. Thomas, his wife, Ferris, said.

“He always had stories,” she said. “He would always tell the grandkids something.”

In 1935, his parents and the eight children who still lived at home moved to Overton, Powers said. They lived in a house on a dirt road that curved right by the house.

Three years later, a car came speeding around that curve and hit and killed both parents as they were walking to church. Powers was with them and was thrown clear of the crash.

“I saw the car was going to hit us,” said Powers, who was 10 at the time. “I think I yelled, ‘Look out!’”

With both parents gone and five children still living at home, their grandparents came to the home to try to keep the family together, Powers said. It wasn’t long before they realized the task was too big for them, so they called together the older children and sent the younger ones to live with them.

“It was hard times then,” Power said. “It was 1938.”

Murphy ended up with his grandparents in Hurricane, Utah, where he continued school. When World War II broke out, all three of his older brothers enlisted in the Navy, but Murphy was too young to join, his wife said.

After the war, he found work in nearby national parks as a cook. He ended up as a chef at the lodge on North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where he met his future wife in September 1950. They were married three months later.

In 1953, Murphy moved his wife and two children to the new city of Henderson to work for American Potash, a recently privatized World War II government defense plant that later became Kerr-McGee. They lived with family members until their new house on Cedar Street was completed in 1954. He paid $7,995 for the house, where he lived until his death.

He became a plumber, joining the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 525, and was active for 50 years, his wife said. He was a hard worker throughout his life, she said.

In the 1950s, when the water of Lake Mead receded enough to bring St. Thomas to the surface, he took his family back and showed them where his house had been. The foundations were still there, but trees had been cut to the stump, his wife said.

The town has been above water for the second time in its history since 2002 because of drought.

In 1992, Murphy retired, but he remained busy.

“After he first retired, he said, ‘I don’t know when I ever had time to work,’” his sister-in-law Mary Ray Murphy.

It was hard work that helped find the cancer that eventually took his life. He had been cutting trees at his cabin in Utah when he fractured two vertebrae at the bottom of his spine, Ferris Murphy said.

When doctors did surgery to repair the damage, they found cancer that had spread from his lungs. Doctors told the family it was probably because of asbestos exposure Murphy had throughout his career as a plumber.

In addition to his wife and sister, Murphy is survived by his daughter Marsha Paterson and son Steven Murphy, both of Henderson.

Graveside services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the St. Thomas Cemetery in Overton. Palm Mortuary-Henderson handled the arrangements.

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