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Thomas Murnane, 77; helped raise $1b for Tufts University

Dr. Thomas Murnane was appointed to Tufts University’s development staff in the 1970s.

Dr. Thomas Murnane was appointed to Tufts University’s development staff in the 1970s.

During the nearly 50 years that passed from the day he stepped onto the Tufts campus as a freshman to when he retired as senior vice president, Thomas W. Murnane filled numerous roles at the university.

He was an undergraduate who later taught classes, a dentistry student and doctoral scholar, and he had his most lasting impact helping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in a series of capital campaigns for the university.

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“All together, Tom Murnane had his fingerprints on every one of the one billion dollars Tufts raised before he retired in 2003,” Sol Gittleman, who was provost during much of Dr. Murnane’s tenure, said as part of a university tribute posted online at the Tufts Now website.

Dr. Murnane, a dentist who formerly taught at the Tufts dental and medical schools, died of leukemia March 20 in Devereux House in Marblehead. He was 77 and had lived in Marblehead for more than 35 years.

Except for studying for a year in Virginia on a National Institutes of Health fellowship, Dr. Murnane spent his entire academic and professional career at Tufts.

As a lifelong representative of the university, he concentrated on developing lasting, sincere relationships with potential donors before asking them to contribute.

“He always said to me, ‘Tim, slow and steady wins the race,’ ” said his son, Timothy of Marblehead.

Dr. Lonnie Norris, a former dean of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, said in that school’s online tribute that Dr. Murnane “had the gift of cultivating relationships and fund-raising to support the growth of Tufts.”

In the same tribute, Dr. H. Chris Doku, a distinguished university professor emeritus, said Dr. Murnane “was not a dreamer, he was a doer, and his ability to communicate with people just made things happen.”

In the late 1970s, Jean Mayer, who was in his early years as president of Tufts, approached Dr. Murnane to help significantly improve the university. Mayer subsequently appointed him to be vice president for development, which involved raising funds for new academic buildings, laboratories, research centers, and residence halls.

In the first of three capital campaigns he worked on, Dr. Murnane helped raise $145 million within five years.

Promoted to senior vice president for university development in 1985, Dr. Murnane went on to head up or work on two additional fund-raising campaigns. He helped raise about $240 million by the end of Mayer’s presidency, and another $600 million by 2001 in a separate campaign with the Tufts University Advancement Division.

Jumbo the elephant is the university’s mascot, and collections of elephant obits filled the Murnane household in Marblehead, but other animals figured prominently as part of Dr. Murnane’s efforts to raise funds for Tufts and its veterinary school.

“Tom looked for donors and politicians, walked the halls of the State House, got the politicians on the Tufts side, and then went after the North Shore horse set and anyone else who loved pets,” Gittleman said in the Tufts Now tribute.

Thomas William Murnane grew up in Belmont and enrolled at Tufts after graduating from Belmont High School.

He received a bachelor’s degree and went to the dental school at Tufts, from which he graduated in 1962. Three years later, he received a postgraduate certificate in oral and maxillofacial surgery, and also graduated with a doctorate in anatomy from the Tufts University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Through a mutual friend Dr. Murnane met Janice Elizabeth Gregory. They married in 1966 and lived in Watertown, Waltham, and Belmont, before settling in Marblehead in 1978.

Dr. Murnane began his career by teaching at the dental and medical schools, and he also had a dental practice. He served briefly as acting dean of the dental school in the early 1970s before he was named associate dean, a position that included spending time socially with potential donors.

“When he got a little taste of administration from being dean, he liked that better,” his son Timothy said.

In 2005, the veterinary school was renamed the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in recognition of its principal benefactors. At the ceremony Philip C. Kosch, who was then dean of the veterinary school, recognized Dr. Murnane’s work with former Tufts presidents Mayer and John DiBiaggio “to give this school a very strong start,” according to a Tufts account.

Dr. Murnane also helped bring about creation of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

Despite his accomplishments, “he never boasted about anything,” his son said. “We knew he was successful, [but] he wouldn’t come home and say, ‘Guess what I did today?’ ”

While at Tufts, his family said, Dr. Murnane viewed the university as a global institution, rather than simply another local college. As part of his fund-raising, Dr. Murnane traveled extensively to meet with Tufts supporters from whom he would seek large donations. When that outreach took him to countries throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, his children often journeyed with him, and his wife continued to accompany him during trips later in his career.

Although “he loved a challenge and the ability to travel the world and influence the university’s direction,” his son said, Dr. Murnane also liked to “be able to have my mother by his side.”

A service has been held for Dr. Murnane, who in addition to his wife, Janice, and son, Timothy, leaves two daughters, Tracey of Peabody and Melissa Murnane Scorzoni of Amesbury; two sisters, Joyce Gelzer of Atlanta and MaryLou; and five grandchildren.

On weekends, Dr. Murnane switched from his professional wardrobe to jeans and a Polo shirt as he cultivated a flower garden and cooked corn for guests he took out on his powerboat for tours along the North Shore coastline.

“People would be surprised about some of the things he was doing because he was just so unassuming,” his son said. “He was more interested in what you did, versus him telling you what he did.”

Michele Richinick can be reached at mrichinick@gmail.com.

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