In Memory of




Obituary for Joseph T. Murray

MURRAY - Joseph T. Of Buffalo, NY. July 12, 2020, at age 90. Beloved husband of Joan M. (McDonald); dear father of Joan E. (Robert Girardi) Murray, Dr. Joseph (Maureen), Thomas (Lynn), Timothy (Kari), Daniel (Cindy) and Mary Beth (Austin McLoughlin) Murray; loving grandfather of (18) grandchildren and (5) great-grandchildren; dear brother of the late Mary Margaret (William) Chren, Neil (Margaret), Kathleen (Raymond) Metzger, Anne (William) Forte, Therese (William) Ferrara and Susanne (William) Reeder; also survived by nieces and nephews. Visitation is being held privately by the immediate family. All are invited to attend a Mass of Christian Burial at Assumption Church, 435 Amherst St., Friday at 9:30am. Please assemble at Church and be mindful that we will be following NYS Guidelines requiring face coverings and 6 feet social distancing. Mr. Murray was a retired Deputy Superintendent of the Buffalo Public School System. Entombment will be in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, with US Air Force Military Honors. If desired, donations in Joseph's memory may be made to: Say Yes Buffalo Endowment Fund c/o The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo 726 Exchange Street, Suite 525 Buffalo, New York 14210. Please share your online condolences at

Obituary published in The Buffalo News, written by Anne Neville:

Joseph T. Murray started in the Buffalo Public Schools as a science teacher.

But the bulk of his career and his finest work was done over the 20 years he served as the architect of the sweeping Buffalo schools desegregation plan.

From 1976, when the Board of Education was court-ordered to devise a plan to desegregate the schools, to 1996, when the court deemed the process a success, Mr. Murray, along with School Superintendent Eugene T. Reville, devised, communicated and implemented the district's gradual transformation under the supervision of Federal Judge John T. Curtin.

"This plan required countless hours of community meetings that engaged parents, teachers and other interested citizens' input to design the new schools that included magnets," said Mr. Murray's daughter, Mary Elizabeth Murray. "Dad always credited the power of the 'collective' in making all of this happen."

Mr. Murray, who consulted on desegregation plans across the country and received awards from dozens of community organizations, died July 12, 2020, in his Buffalo home, eight days before his 91st birthday.

Mr. Murray was born on Laird Avenue in Riverside, the fifth of seven children born to Neil Murray, a police officer, and Mary O'Donnell Murray, a homemaker.

In 1990, Mr. Murray recalled his boyhood as a golden time. "You name the nationality, and it's in Riverside," he said. "It's a wonderful area for growing up."

He graduated from All Saints grade school and Canisius High School. During World War II, despite not having a driver's license, he was hired to drive city buses from the end of their routes to the bus depot downtown, "standing the whole time because his feet couldn’t reach the gas, brakes or clutch from a sitting position in the driver's seat," Mr. Murray's oldest son, Joseph, said in his eulogy.

In 1951, Mr. Murray earned his bachelor's degree from Canisius College. From 1951 to 1955, Mr. Murray spent four years in the Air Force, serving at the Sampson Naval Training Station and rising to the rank of staff sergeant.

After his father retired, he opened a small grocery store in Kenmore. While working at the store, Mr. Murray met his wife-to-be, Joanie McDonald.

They married Jan. 7, 1956, in St. Gerard Church.

After working briefly at Hooker Chemical Co. and Bell Aerospace, Mr. Murray returned to Canisius College to get a master's degree in education with the goal of becoming a science teacher, graduating in 1967. In 1972, he added a Certificate of Advanced Study in education from Niagara University.

Mr. Murray taught at the all-Black Clinton Junior High School from 1958 to 1967.

"He loved his years at Clinton and would call them his 'Camelot' years," Joseph Murray said.

But, his son added, he "found himself balancing the considerable talents of his staff and students with the constraints placed on his position by a system that was anchored in systematic segregation and underfunding."

Mr. Murray started as assistant principal "on the heels of the 1967 Buffalo riots," said Mary Elizabeth Murray. "He spoke of the underlying issues of the rioting as he witnessed a community of oppressed people facing targeted police brutality, abject lack of job opportunities and a system of racialized oppression."

He was promoted to principal in 1968.

"We had a slogan: 'Let's catch the kids doing something right,'" Mr. Murray recalled in 1990. "The teachers every month would write home saying something good about the children."

In 1973, Mr. Murray was promoted to the post of assistant superintendent for curriculum evaluation and development.

As he worked on what would become known as the Buffalo Plan, Mr. Murray often spoke of "the people who collectively came together to champion all of the children of Buffalo," his son said.

Promoted in 1975 to associate superintendent for instructional services, Mr. Murray said he "creatively stole" the best desegregation ideas from districts across the country. In the 20 years that the plan took its dozens of steps to end segregation, 24 segregated schools were closed and 22 magnet schools were opened. The district opened 11 early-childhood centers and 17 upper-grade academies. Some 15,000 students, both Black and white, were bused. Math and reading scores and parent involvement improved and the dropout rate and absenteeism declined.

Mr. Murray became acting deputy superintendent in 1989 and retired from the Buffalo schools in 1990.

In 1996, looking back at the desegregation plan, The Buffalo News editorial board wrote of Mr. Murray and Reville, "With verve and understanding, they developed the magnet-school plan and made it work without disruption. They made a great team."

After Reville was killed in a car crash in 1990 in Little Rock, where he had gone to work on a desegregation plan, Mr. Murray was offered the job. He declined, citing his health, continuing school problems here and the love he and his wife had for Buffalo.

"The city – despite its undeserved snowy reputation – is a great city," Mr. Murray wrote to the federal judge supervising Little Rock desegregation. "Buffalo is our home."

Mr. Murray worked from 1990 to 2000 as director of precollegiate programs at SUNY Buffalo State. He worked as a consultant to more than a dozen districts throughout the country.

"In 1985, The New York Times hailed the Buffalo Plan as a model for the rest of the country," said Mary Elizabeth Murray. "Although it was deemed a success, Dad talked about how more had to be done in every area of our community."

He was named a Buffalo News Citizen of the Year in 1991, and named administrator of the year by Niagara University in 1990. In 1989, he received a Black Achievers Award of Excellence in Education and an award for Excellence and Equity in Education from the National Committee for School Desegregation. He won a Distinguished Alumni Award from Canisius College in 1987. He was honored by the Rotary Club, the Community Action Organization of Erie County, the state Congress of Parents and Students and other organizations.

Mr. Murray suffered from severe kidney disease and in the 1980s worked through dialysis procedures three times a week. In 1986, a sister donated a kidney to him, transplanted at the Cleveland Clinic.

Mr. Murray is survived by his wife of 64 years, Joan M. McDonald Murray; two daughters, Joan E. and Mary Elizabeth Murray; four sons, Dr. Joseph, Thomas, Timothy and Daniel Murray; 18 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated last week in Assumption Church.