Dr. Josephine Lee Murray, 91, pediatrician, philanthropist, activist

Dr. Murray seemed happier on her farm “than in settings that called for formality and fancy dress,” her godchild said.
Dr. Murray seemed happier on her farm “than in settings that called for formality and fancy dress,” her godchild said.

Unlike many of her Radcliffe­ classmates who married soon after graduation in 1944, Dr. Josephine Lee Murray chose a different route, one that would be marked by a medical career, wide-ranging philanthropy, dedication to music and the arts, and activism against the use of nuclear arms.

During World War II, she joined the US Office of Strategic Services and was assigned to Norway. Dr. Murray, who spoke Norwegian, later told friends her assignment was “to hang out in bars and listen to conversations’’ on the chance that patrons would give up war-related secrets.

After the war, Dr. Murray lived in Paris for a year before returning to the United States. She earned her medical degree at New York University in 1961, and returned to Boston, where she was raised, in 1965 to become a pediatrician at Judge Baker Children’s Center, where she stayed until 1981.


“Dr. Murray was a deeply valued member of the Baker family,’’ said Dr. William Beardslee, senior research specialist there.

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Dr. Murray died Oct. 3 at her farm in Boxford, according to family spokesman Patrick Swanson. He said she had Alzheimer’s disease for the past several years, but her death was due to breast cancer. She was 91.

After Dr. Murray left the Baker center, her love for children and dedication to her profession remained firm while her commitment to social causes and to music were equally strong, said Swanson, a longtime friend who helped manage the farm and is artistic director of the Revels, a Watertown-based music, dance, and drama group.

“She was a very focused woman committed to the cause of peace and concerned about the consequences of nuclear war,’’ said California State Assembly member William Monning, former executive director of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. She demonstrated with the group against the use of nuclear weapons on at least two occasions, in Moscow in 1987 and in Kazakhstan in 1990.

Richard Healey, founder of the Cambridge-based Grassroots Policy Project, said he met Dr. Murray in the mid-1980s, “probably at a meeting about the nuclear freeze,” and found her to be “a woman of great warmth and energy.”


“She often appeared to be a proper New Englander, but at heart she was a Yankee radical,” he said. “She was passionate about music; she was passionate about a better country and a better world; and she had a wonderful, dry sense of humor.”

Dr. Murray lived according to her beliefs, he said.

“Her apartment in Cambridge might have been occupied by a schoolteacher living on her salary,” he said, “except for the grand piano in the living room.’’

Dr. Murray was also active in and helped underwrite some of the work of Physicians for Social Responsibility and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, where Dr. Charles Clements, executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, first met her.

“Josie wasn’t someone who would just write out a check,’’ he said. “She would ask strategic questions to understand what would be accomplished, and how, as well as what impact it was likely to have. I think Josie was very proud of the role of those two groups in exposing the dangers of nuclear testing to children through the studies of strontium-90 in baby teeth, which was led by pediatricians.’’


Dr. Murray wove in her love of music with her support of the cause, Swanson said.

She was passionate about music and ‘about a better country and a better world; and she had a wonderful, dry sense of humor.’

One of her later contributions of funds was to “jointly commission John Harbison to compose a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma,” said Swanson.

A story in the Globe in 1994 reported that “it was a BSO patron who thought to match in a concerto these two men’’ naming Dr. Murray.

Anne Azema, artistic director of the Boston Camerata, said Dr. Murray was “a longtime sustainer and friend’’ to the internationally known group.

Dr. Murray also did not forget her alma mater, donating various scholarships, often anonymously, to Radcliffe. The Bunting Institute was among the recipients.

“She was very generous,’’ said Florence Ladd, its former head, “especially for the Peace Fellowship for women engaged in work that contributes to peace, internationally or domestically.’’

Dr. Murray was born in New York City to Dr. Henry and Josephine Lee (Rantoul) Murray.

She grew up in Boston on Beacon Hill, Swanson said, spending summers on Grindstone Island in the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River.

After she received her medical degree in 1961, she did an internship at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., before returning to Boston in 1965 to join the Judge Baker Center.

Dr. Murray never married, but spent time with her godchild, Mary T. White, the daughter of her Radcliffe classmate, Eleanor Madeira, with whom she roomed during her year in Paris.

Dr. Murray traveled with White, who is a professor in the Department of Community Health at Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and Madeira to Surinam and to Peru, going up the Amazon.

And when White lived in Cambridge from 1980 to 1990, the two attended concerts and talks, and spent time at the Boxford farm, where Dr. Murray stayed on weekends.

“The farm was magical with bounteous vegetable and flower gardens, dogs, cats, goats, pigs, spectacular chickens, horses, bees, and interesting people coming and going,” White said. “It was a lovely and lively place. Still is.’’

She said Dr. Murray loved the informality of the farm.

“She was tall, strong, seemingly happier on the farm than in settings that called for formality and fancy dress,” she said. “She was not interested in ‘things.’ ’’

“Josie was a wonderful model for me,’’ said a cousin, Sylvia Pope of Weare, N.H. “She was very self-reliant and independent woman. . . . She had a wonderful laugh that rose out of the depth of her soul.’’

As Dr. Murray was dying, Swanson said, the strains of Boston Camerata’s “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation” from “A Baroque Christmas” played.

Dr. Murray leaves her stepmother Nina Murray of Bedford; a stepbrother, Alexander Davis of Bristol, Maine; and stepsisters Caroline Janover and Anna Kelso MacLaughlin, both of Damariscotta, Maine; Quita Davis of Hanover, N.H.; and Maude Fish of Washington, D.C.

A private service was held, and a celebration of her life is being scheduled for the spring.

Gloria Negri can be reached at