Longtime Wellesley resident Dr. Joseph Murray earned many honors during his lifetime, the most notable of which was a shared Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990. Now a movement is afoot to create a lasting monument to him in town posthumously, and if any Wellesley-ite deserves such recognition, it’s this self-described “surgeon-scientist.”
Murray — renowned for performing the world’s first successful human organ (kidney) transplant in Boston and for training many physicians who would conduct transplants of their own — passed away in 2012 at the age of 93. Murray served as the first chief of plastic surgery at Children’s Hospital in Boston and during the 1940s, while with the Army Medical Corps, he treated wounded World War II soldiers whose hands and faces were disfigured (among his most amazing patients: pilot Charles Woods, who was severely burned in an airplane crash while in the Army). Murray also directed the Surgical Research Laboratory at Harvard and the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham & Women’s) for years.
I recommend reading Murray’s autobiography, Surgery of the Soul, if you want to get a more complete picture of his accomplishments and life. I read the book several years back, but the before-and-after stories of his patients have stuck with me.
The Holy Cross and Harvard Medical School-educated doctor’s contributions left a huge impression on many, including a pair of Wellesley women (Kit Bowry and Linda Kenerson) who have approached the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission and Wellesley Historical Commission with a proposed gift of a permanent monument “in recognition of the unique and profound impact the achievements of Dr. Joseph E. Murray have had on humankind.”
While Murray was born in Milford, Mass., in 1919, he lived in Wellesley from 1951 to 2012. He and his wife Bobby (who still lives in town) raised six children, all of whom were educated through the public school system.
The proposed monument would be similar to a memorial to another Wellesley resident who left his mark on the world of medicine: William T.G. Morton. The plaque on Morton’s monument, a large rock to the right of the entrance to Town Hall, reads “Here Lived Dr. W.T.G. Morton: He Gave to the World the use of Ether in Surgery A. D. 1846.”
The bronze plaque on Dr. Murray’s monument, as proposed, would read:
Dr. Joseph E. Murray
1954 first successful transplant of a human organ
1990 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1951 – 2012 Resident of Wellesley
“The Murray family is thrilled that this recognition has been proposed and support it completely,” writes Rick Murray, one of Dr. and Mrs. Murray’s sons. “As a humble man, Dad would be pleased that it is at once visible and yet not too attention-getting. Also, as a lover of nature and an avid outdoorsman, he would be pleased that the recognition will be in a natural rock and as part of the landscape—that seems particularly fitting.”
The proposal is still in the early stages and the town approvals process has only begun. The NRC hasn’t decided anything yet, but Director Brandon Schmitt says “the board thought it was entirely appropriate to honor Dr. Murray, and looks forward to working with the sponsors on the specific design and location in the future.” The sponsors, who anticipate raising private funds for the monument, would love to see it located at Town Hall park.
As for the Historical Commission, Chairman Arvid von Taube says members enthusiastically support the proposal. “We were especially struck to learn that of the two murals hanging on the walls of the first floor of the Harvard Medical School, one depicts Dr. W.T.G. Morton performing The First Operation Under Ether, and the second depicts Dr. Joseph E. Murray performing The First Successful Kidney Transplantation. It is only fitting that a plaque commemorating Dr. Murray join his fellow Wellesley resident on Town Hall grounds.”
(The Swellesley Report heartily agrees that Dr. Murray rocked, and thus deserves a stone monument in town, and not just because I share a Milford-Wellesley connection with him.)