Francis Murphey was born on the 24th of December 1906, in Macon, Mississippi, the son of Edwin Mason Murphey and Clara Virginia Boggess. He attended school in Macon, and then graduated with an A.B. degree from Vanderbilt University. He received his M.D. degree from the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Murphey served a surgical internship at the University of Chicago Hospitals in Chicago, Illinois during 1933 and 1934. While he was in Chicago, Dr. Paul Bucy suggested to him the possibility of associating with Dr. Eustace Semmes in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Murphey joined Dr. Semmes in 1934, and completed a residency in neurological surgery at the University of Tennessee Medical Center with Dr. Semmes. Dr. Murphey sequentially held every academic rank in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Tennessee, culminating in his appointment as professor and chairman in 1956. In addition to his duties at the University of Tennessee, he was able to direct an active service at the Baptist Memorial Hospital and was named chief of service of the Department of Neurosurgery in 1956.
With the outbreak of World War II, Dr. Murphey entered the Armed Services. He was chief of the Neurosurgical Service at O'Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, a center for peripheral nerve injuries, from 1942 to 1946. This offered an unusual opportunity for Dr. Murphey, and with his characteristic astuteness and energy he made the most of the opportunity, becoming a leading authority on the diagnosis and treatment of injuries of the peripheral nerves. In 1947 he became the first to demonstrate the myelographic picture of cervical nerve root avulsion. His chapter on peripheral nerve injuries that appeared in Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics is one of the most lucid works on this subject. Dr. Murphey still maintains an intense interest in injuries to peripheral nerves and enjoys demonstrating the clinical diagnosis of these injuries to medical students and residents.
Another disorder that attracted Dr. Murphey's attention was ruptured lumbar and cervical discs, and the subsequent work of Dr. Murphey and Dr. Semmes in this field has become legend. Dr. Murphey shared some of his experiences with the members of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons at the 1972 meeting.
Dr. Murphey has also had a particular interest in cerebrovascular problems. As director of the University of Tennessee Cerebrovascular Research Center, he contributed to the cooperative studies that have investigated subarachnoid hemorrhage and extracranial occlusive disease. He directed research on these problems for a number of years, with a special emphasis on profound hypothermia and its application toward the treatment of aneurysms and other vascular lesions of the brain.
His talents were recognized early by the many neurosurgical organizations of which he has been a member. He was president of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery in 1942, president of the Southern Neurosurgical Society in 1964, and president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons in 1966. In addition, he has served on the American Board of Neurological Surgery and was its chairman in 1964. He was president and chief of staff of the Baptist Memorial Hospital, and was named a consultant to the National Institutes of Health in 1962.
Dr. Murphey is the author of many scientific papers and chapters in books. However, he has still found time to pursue his avid fascination with hunting, fishing, gin rummy, and golf. He approaches these with the same thoroughness that he does neurosurgery. On one occasion, he took some of his friends for breakfast in a small cafe prior to a duck hunt. When the proprietor regretted that he had no eggs to serve for their breakfast, Dr. Murphey remarked, "I thought this might happen," and produced the eggs which he had brought with him as a precaution.
Dr. Murphey has a reputation as an astute clinician and he is an extremely thorough examiner. He has a remarkable memory for unusual cases. He never makes a snap diagnosis, although it sometimes appears that he arrives at the diagnosis very quickly. His diagnosis is always based on a very careful analysis of the patient's history, physical findings, and all related information.
He is outspoken on those subjects with which he is familiar, and he is always able to back his opinions with facts. He is never afraid to take a stand, even though this stand may be unpopular, and it usually develops that the unpopular stand is the correct one.
Dr. Murphey is married to Roder Trigg of Memphis. They have one daughter, Elizabeth Coulon Murphey Ransom, and two grandchildren, Beth and Jennifer. Dr. Murphey is convinced that he is the only grandfather who will have two Miss Americas as grandchildren.
It is a privilege to have been associated with Dr. Murphey over the past 20 years. He has inspired those who have been associated with him to be thorough in their clinical approach, to be certain of their facts when they make statements, and to consider all the factors involved, whether it be treating a patient, conducting a scientific meeting, or arranging for a duck hunt.