Weatherford Democrat

Columns

August 8, 2011

Versatility redefined

WEATHERFORD — He was, by any measure, the most versatile student whose path I crossed during a 40-year career in higher education.

Upon completing high school in Toronto, he was off on his bike to “seek his fortune.” This sounds like a nursery rhyme beginning; for Dan Murray, though, it was the real deal. First, he flew to Vancouver, the starting point of his 3,400-mile biking adventure that ended in Texas 36 days later. (The only “break” was a stop in San Francisco to run in the marathon.)

He was a freshman at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, for the 1991 spring semester. Like most other first-year students, he was unsure of his academic path. Dan was certain, though, that while at the undergraduate fountain, he would take on collegiate experiences in big gulps. My family and I — as well as colleagues and his fellow students —  quickly realized that he didn’t march to drummer beats. A sharper picture would show him strapped to a laser beam — maybe multiple beams — hanging on for the ride.

This is not to say I always understood his judgment. Sometimes when I heard “Can-you-believe-what-Dan-did” stories, I cringed, thankful he survived. I’ll cite just a couple.

One Thanksgiving, he headed for Sacramento on a motorcycle one would expect to buy for a three-digit figure at Sanford and Son’s place. Never mind it was sleeting, with the temperature in the teens. He fell asleep near Las Cruces, struck a road sign, sustained a deep gash on a big toe and knocked a foot peg off the ‘cycle. He bought a needle, thread and alcohol, sewed up the toe and proceeded to Sacramento.

I also would have recommended that he leave it to others for challenges of a country road’s “thrill hill.” It was near the campus, and its 75-foot drop on a thousand-foot descent lured students for assorted races. Dan, though, was the first to make the descent on roller blades, sometimes at speeds exceeding 50 mph. Clad in leather clothing, he came to sudden stops by falling down before smacking into a foreboding cable-topped fence.

The list of accomplishments is far longer than his “freshman follies,” some in which he was engaged for all four years. A graduate of the university’s prestigious Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom, Dan’s interests were many and varied.

He was a member of three honor societies, played trumpet in the marching and concert bands and appeared in a college drama. A cheerleader all four years, he was a three-time All-American and “top gun stunter.” As head cheerleader for two years, he led the school’s first-ever team in national competition.

He also was a member of HPU’s championship track teams in 1993-94, running in the 800-meter, 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter events. In ’94, the conference track meet was held in Abilene, where he was to take the MCAT exam on the same day. I urged him to forego the 5,000-meter race that day. He ran the race in the a.m., then sat for the MCAT in the afternoon. And he did well in both.

He won numerous academic honors, and later was the alumni association’s “outstanding young graduate” during 2004 homecoming activities.

In 1995, he was off to medical school at Texas A&M University. In an initial class, his studies included a textbook written by his father, Dr. Robert Murray, a longtime member of the faculty at the University of Toronto Medical School. Dan received his M.D. diploma in 1999, before completing his residency in family medicine in 2002. Specialty honors included his being named chief resident and “resident of the year.”

Next were duties as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force. Yet another degree was forthcoming. He received the Master of Public Health degree as part of the residency in Aerospace Medicine from UTMB-Galveston. Awards continued to multiply.

A few weeks ago, he was one of eight officers graduating from the residency in Aerospace Medicine. At the San Antonio ceremony, my wife and I “teared up,” noting how Dan has continued to endear himself to others. He was host for the commencement speaker, Lt. Gen. Bruce Green, Surgeon General of the Air Force. It was a weepy occasion for everyone, this being the final event for the military facility that provided medical training for almost an entire century.

Now, Lt. Col./Dr. Murray — or just “Dan, the guy who conquered ‘thrill hill’” — is Chief of Aerospace medicine at Vandenberg AFB in California. When astronauts come back into play, his name is on the candidacy list. Any parents would be proud to call him “son.”

We salute him, his wife, the former Melissa Wertz, and their live wire sons, Kaid and Ian, who, at ages 4 and 2, are “chips off the old block.”

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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