At 73, graduating psych student has lifetime of learning to give back

Bill Murphy still remembers the excitement in the house as a kid when the family bought their first fridge. “Then we got a telephone,” he says. “Then a radiogram.” Next week, Murphy will join thousands of other graduate students in attaining their first degree at the final Spring 2011 convocation ceremony June 18.

As one of the oldest graduating students – he recently turned 73 – Murphy’s memory reaches way back. He remembers prior to the new fridge that his family kept food cool by storing it in what was called a “safe”, a frame covered by mesh to allow air to move through.

Bill Murphy at the helm of his sailboat on Lake OntarioLeft: Bill Murphy at the helm of his sailboat on Lake Ontario

But that was before he spent four years in the British Merchant Navy and began his career in the catering and hotel business, which took him from his home in Ireland to England and Paris, and back to Ireland, and finally Canada, along with his wife and two children. He already had a brother in Canada and the country held out the promise of a better life. He eventually left catering behind and began working in insurance and sales. He returned to school and received his chartered life underwriter and financial planner papers. “When I retired I had to give up all my designations,” he says. Unless, you’re still working in the business, you can’t keep the designations.

The one thing he never got, and so it couldn’t be taken away, was a university degree. After retiring, Murphy decided to enrol in psychology at York’s Glendon campus. His first few days were a “little disconcerting,” he says, as the students initially thought he was a professor. Once that was cleared up, Murphy found himself getting into a good routine. Despite the vast age difference between him and his fellow classmates, he enjoyed his time as a student, calling it an amazing experience.

“Although, for most of them I could be their grandfather, they treated me like an equal,” he says. “I shall miss Glendon. It is a marvelous place and everyone there is so nice.”

Even before completing the program, Murphy worked as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counsellor and hopes to do so again. He even took extra training at the Betty Ford Center. Alcoholism is “very prevalent.” “It’s a horrible disease” and “it does horrific damage to families,” he says. Counselling “is about trying to restore families.”

Murphy knows that only too well. He’s been sober now for 18 years. When those in rehab tell him he has no idea what they are going through, Murphy replies, “I was doing this long before you were born my son, so let’s get real.” His real passion lies in helping others overcome their addictions and heal their personal lives and relationships.

When he’s not doing that, this grandfather of five is out sailing his 30-foot sloop on Lake Ontario near his Newcastle home and enjoying a warm breeze.

York’s Spring 2011 convocation ceremonies will run from June 10 to 18.

By Sandra Mclean, YFile writer