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She was what he needed: quiet inspiration

Mina Murphy's Baptist minister husband credits her for changing his life for the better.

By Stephanie Hayes, Times Staff Writer
Published February 16, 2008

[Family photo]
Filomena Murphy was always calm, low key and responsible, even in an unfamiliar role as first lady of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Mrs. Murphy died Thursday at age 47.

ST. PETERSBURG - Dec. 31, 1981. Louis Murphy was in Hawaii, going to college, serving in the Marines. But really, he said, he was running from God.

That night, he danced with a Samoan beauty named Filomena to a sound track of Reasons by Earth, Wind and Fire. She was loyal, virtuous, trustworthy. She was what he wanted in a wife.

Except one thing - she wasn't ambitious. When he asked about her goals, she would shrug. She liked simple things like reading and family. He was a striver with big dreams. How could he be with someone who wasn't?

Turns out, she was exactly what he needed.

Filomena Murphy was always calm, low key and responsible. She had a strong faith bred by her devout Catholic parents. Her husband almost never touched diapers for their kids, Chiriga and Louis Jr. - she did. When the kids cried, he didn't know what to do - she did.

"My wife was always the anchor of the family," Mr. Murphy said. "She was steady. I was partying with the boys and hitting the nightclubs."

In 1992, he was laid off from Florida Power and took a look at his life. He started going to church at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, one of St. Petersburg's largest African-American churches. At home, the family evolved. Every day at 6 a.m., they studied the Bible.

In 1999, the church's pastor resigned amid financial strife and power struggles. Some people left the church. Mrs. Murphy wasn't one for small talk. So when her husband thought of leaving, she put it to him plain: "You go ahead. I'm staying."

He doesn't know why she said it. He doesn't know why he listened, either. But he stayed. And soon after, Rev. Louis Murphy became pastor of Mount Zion.

"God used her to keep me there," he said.

She was thrust into an unfamiliar role - first lady of a Baptist church. She didn't even own hats, a tradition for church women.

"It was funny watching her go through the transition with the mothers of the church and starting to wear hats," said Rev. Murphy, 49. "She would look really cute."

Then, in 2004, she found a lump. Cancer.

After her first round of chemotherapy, she was discouraged. But Mrs. Murphy's church friends persuaded her to continue treatment. She attended a support group, Sistahs Surviving Breast Cancer.

"It was a hard road for her," said Jackie Brown, leader of the group. "We kept her encouraged. We prayed constantly for her. We didn't dwell on it."

On Thursday, Mrs. Murphy died. She was 47.

Brown looked back fondly on a support group trip to Chicago last year. Mrs. Murphy, ever responsible and consistent, was the first one at the airport at 7 a.m.

She never really changed.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or 727 893-8857.


Filomena "Mina" Murphy

Born: Aug. 11, 1960.

Died: Feb. 14, 2008.

Services: 11 a.m. Wednesday at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, 955 20th St. S, St. Petersburg.

[Last modified February 15, 2008, 22:55:12]

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