Firefighters Answer A Final Call For One Of Their Own
The plight of retiree Robert Murray, who had no next of kin to arrange burial, raised an alarm for his colleagues in uniform.
For much of the latter years of his life, Robert Murray lived out of the back of his Ford station wagon.
And when the former Los Angeles County firefighter died recently, there were no loved ones at his side or to claim his body. He was about to become a statistic, and end up at the cemetery in Boyle Heights where the cremated remains of thousands of unclaimed bodies are buried each year, when fate intervened.
A group of Los Angeles County firefighters heard about Murray, who died last month at the age of 81 in a Covina hospital, and set out to give the story a different ending, one with a fireman’s proper burial.
On Friday, about 50 working and retired firefighters gathered in Rosemead to bury Murray, a 31-year veteran of the department, though only a handful had ever met him.
The story began more than a month ago, when Carol Moore, a registered nurse and the patient care coordinator for the firefighters union, found out that Murray was languishing in a hospital without any family at his side.
Her first move was to notify Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014.
Paul Rusin, one of the union directors, was intrigued and wanted to know more about him.
But concern over violating medical privacy laws made him reluctant to step in.
On Jan. 11, Murray died at Citrus Valley Medical Center, Inter-Community Campus, in Covina.
An investigation by the county public administrator’s office found no next of kin and gave custody of the body to the firefighters union earlier this month.
Described as quiet and thin with jet-black hair, Murray was a mystery to most of those he worked with.
He spent most of his 31 years in the department at Fire Station 82 in La Cañada Flintridge.
After retiring in 1980, he collected a pension, but no one knew where he lived. He carried a suitcase wrapped in masking tape, and for part of his working and retired life, lived out of the station wagon.
Lyle Burkhart, a retired firefighter who occasionally worked overtime with Murray in the 1970s, described him as someone few really got to know.
Murray went by “Bob” and earned the nickname “The Crow” for winning a golf tournament in which the prize was both a stuffed crow and the right to “crow” about the win, said Rich Zimmer, a now-retired firefighter who worked with him.
Many described the service and the burial, which involved no close friends or family of Murray, as a product of camaraderie that exists among firefighters.
“It’s a family-oriented job,” said John Smolin, treasurer for the union. “It’s unusual that this guy slipped through the cracks.”
During the funeral, Chaplain Elvin Miranda said: “There is a feeling of grief, because there would be no one to grieve for him. There was a big piece missing.”
The service was held Friday morning at Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Diamond Bar.
For the Friday afternoon burial at Savannah Memorial Park, a five-acre cemetery in Rosemead, a procession of two firetrucks and a white, eight-posted horse-drawn hearse carried Murray’s flag-draped casket to the donated plot.
A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” as men and women — many in uniform — stood in a semicircle around the grave, heads bowed.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Rusin, standing next to firefighter and union director Will Pryor after the funeral.
“We saved him from a difficult fate,” Pryor said.
Los Angeles Times, By Tony Barboza, Times Staff Writer