Princeton Personality By Jean Stratton
Journalism Has Been Focus of Regina Waldron Murray's Long Career
Printer's ink is in Regina Waldron Murray's veins. Daughter of a newspaperman, she has carried on the tradition, becoming a newspaper reporter and columnist, contributor to numerous publications, author of three books, and contributing writer for another.
The ability to communicate to others in this way has been the focus of a long and varied career.
"I loved to write when I was growing up," says Mrs. Murray. "As a girl, I kept notes from the time I was seven years old. Later, as a reporter, when I'd step into the office, I would be exhilarated! It seemed to me the most wonderful job."
She came by her love of the printed word naturally. Her father, Thomas F. Waldron, was editor and part owner of the Trenton Sunday Advertiser, executive editor of the Trenton Times newspapers for many years, and later editor and publisher of the Trenton News.
Regina, known as Jean, was born in Trenton, the only girl in a family with five brothers. Surrounded by all these boys (including younger identical twins), she says she learned early on to hold her own.
"Actually, we were very close, and they were protective of me," she recalls. "Then, later, when I began to date, they started to tease me.
"I had a wonderful childhood and marvelous parents. They were truly my role models," she continues. "Our house was such a happy place. There was so much laughter. My mother, also named Regina, was a charming hostess. She made everyone feel welcome, and my friends loved to come over of course, I had all those brothers!"
Growing up in a busy household, Jean always found lots to do, and when not actively engaged in a project, she enjoyed reading. Even as a young girl, her taste ran to non-fiction, especially biographies and autobiographies.
"When I was growing up, everyone's hero was Charles Lindbergh," she says. "I loved to read about him, and years later, I had the great pleasure of interviewing his daughter, Reeve, who gave me insights into his character."
Jean attended Cathedral High School in Trenton, where she especially enjoyed literature and writing, and she also excelled in tennis, holding national junior ranking. She was Trenton junior girls' and women's champion, Trenton mixed double's champion (with brother James), and Trenton district single's champion. Other titles included Trenton Country Club junior single's champion, women's singles champion, and mixed doubles champion.
In addition to her skill with pen and racket, she was handy with a paint brush. An enthusiastic and talented painter, especially in watercolors and oils, she studied privately with New Hope artists John Folinsbee and George W. Brown.
Her love of painting has continued through the years, and many of her watercolors, primarily landscapes, have been given to family and friends. Others adorn the walls of her home.
As she points out, "If you allow yourself to have a lot of interests, you are never bored."
Jean attended Georgian Court College in Lakewood, earning a B.A. in English literature and art. She then took courses in dramatic radio writing at Columbia University Extension School in New York City.
Her world changed dramatically, as did that of nearly everyone in the U.S., when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941. Working as a feature writer and columnist for the Trenton News (after having apprenticed in the paper's "morgue"), she was asked by the Trenton USO to create a monthly newspaper for servicemen in Trenton.
"I started the paper and called it 'At Ease'," she reports. "We did a lot of features with stories about what was going on in the area, and interviewed soldiers. I did this at night because I had the full-time job during the day at the Trenton News."
Then in 1943, her life took another turn. All five brothers were serving in the Army, Navy, and Air Corps overseas, and she very much wanted to go overseas as well.
"I didn't see any reason why a woman shouldn't be able to do what she could to help in the war. My brothers strongly objected, however. They didn't think it was fair to my parents to have everyone overseas."
Looking into other possibilities, Jean discovered a branch of the Army Special Services consisting of women who were in charge of running army post service clubs, including at nearby Fort Dix.
"The big Army base at Fort Dix was the induction and basic training center for thousands of recruits from the northeast," remembers Mrs. Murray. Adjoining the post was the critical Army Air base, now McGuire Air Force Base."
The only drawbacks were age and specific experience, she remembers. "You were supposed to be 25. I wasn't. You were supposed to have a degree in social work. I didn't. But they waived these requirements because of my persistent petitioning to Army officials and my previous volunteer experience."
Her mother had some objections, however. "Perhaps, understandably, she was worried about her only daughter moving onto an Army post where thousands of soldiers were stationed. But determined to serve, I spoke to my father.
"Patriotism doesn't have a gender," I said. "Without hesitation, he agreed and gave me his blessing. My mother somewhat reluctantly finally came around, too.
"At the time," continues Mrs. Murray, "there were only a handful of women running the post service clubs. Our slate blue uniform had a rainbow insignia, with each color indicating a different branch of the armed forces. In the course of three years, my duties took me to all of the service clubs on the post and also to what is now McGuire Air Force Base.
"I wrote stories for the Fort Dix Post newspaper, and we put on shows for the soldiers. Mostly, we spent a great deal of time talking to them. The recruits were typically there for one week of basic training and then went to other bases for further training before going overseas. They were so young, often just 18. I chose to work on holidays because that's when they could be the most lonely."
This experience was a very special time in Mrs. Murray's life, and she committed her memories to a book: "Flashbacks from an Army Camp: Those Wonderful GIs of World War II," which was published in 2002.
Letters, pictures, and cartoons are included, and Mrs. Murray has recaptured that bittersweet time for new generations. Humorous and poignant stories blended into the tapestry of life at Fort Dix in the early 1940s. She recalls giving dancing lessons to embarrassed recruits who had never learned, listening to young soldiers talk of home, and promising a GI to care for his kitten "Clambake" for two weeks while he was away. Clambake grew to adulthood, but the soldier never came back for him.
Not everyone knew that a contingent of German prisoners was quartered at Fort Dix, she adds, or that members of the Free French, followers of General Charles DeGaulle, "resplendent in colorful uniforms and gold-braided hats", trained at the base.
One is struck by the extreme youthfulness of many of the recruits in the photos, and Mrs. Murray points out, "I had a chance to meet some of the most wonderful young men our country has produced. They were very young, lonely, and filled with a desire to serve their country and help mankind.
"Yankee determination and humor overrode fears as servicemen shipped out to fight a war thousands of miles away. Who but young Americans would spontaneously scrawl the message KILROY WAS HERE in outposts around the world? Did enemy forces waste manpower trying to capture the elusive Kilroy? Even today, the fictitious Kilroy's bulletin is occasionally spotted in the remains of an old control tower in England or in a quonset hut on a deserted base.
"Many of the young men who entered the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Corps so long ago fell on foreign fields, were shot down from the skies, or found watery graves. Some were disabled. All were heroes. Those who came back were very unassuming, very seldom talked about the war, and were the bulwark of our country. I considered it a great privilege to know them."
After the war ended, Mrs. Murray continued her service, now as a counselor for the Veterans' Service Bureau in Trenton, where her focus was on helping the vets settle into civilian life.
Also during this time, she wrote radio dramas which were aired on the local NBC affiliate. On numerous occasions, she was a guest speaker at community organizations in the Trenton area. The subjects were usually about her wartime and journalism experiences.
After all the years of helping young servicemen, Jean found her own special soldier, Holt A. Murray, whom she married in 1947. She had not met him at Fort Dix, however.
"I think I knew my husband all my life," she says, smiling. "Holt is sure he first saw me when I was three! He was born in Trenton, but grew up in Yardley, and we had mutual friends.
"Holt was a B-17 pilot during the war, a squadron leader, and flew 35 missions over Germany."
Mr. Murray continued to fly after the war, and she joined him, taking flying lessons herself. "It was really for safety reasons," she explains. "I liked being able to do it, and thank goodness, I was never called upon to fill in in an emergency."
The couple moved to Harbourton, where eventually, the family grew to include four children: Holt, Jr., Tom, Regina, and Anne. In 1965, they moved to Princeton.
Although she put her career on hold when the children were small, Mrs. Murray did take on free-lance writing assignments, and also volunteered her writing expertise for various non-profit organizations in the Princeton area.
The importance of volunteering and helping others was instilled in the Waldron family by her parents, she notes. "I have always volunteered my services in writing. Someone asked me once, 'Why do you spend so much time writing without getting a byline? No one knows that you wrote it.' I answered, 'I know it.'"
Mrs. Murray gradually expanded her free-lancing assignments, some of which appeared in the The New York Times and magazines, such as Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute.
She later accepted an offer to write a weekly column for the Trentonian, which she continued for four years. It was an opportunity she could not let pass by.
"I loved people, and I wrote about individuals in the area," she explains. "It was a wonderful cross-section of people from different walks of life."
Among those she interviewed were George Gallup, former N.J. Governor Richard Hughes, Princeton cartoonist Henry Martin, writer Peter Funk. also a Princeton resident, and former Princeton University Dean of the Chapel Ernest Gordon, who was a survivor of the Japanese war camp whose prisoners were forced to build the infamous bridge over the River Kwai.
William Adams, then over 90 years old, and a Princeton resident, was the last living survivor of the Lusitania (sunk by the Germans in World War I). He was another of Mrs. Murray's profiles, as was former Princeton University president and former Ambassador to India, Robert Goheen.
Many of these articles were included in her book, Profiles in the Wind, published in 1998. George Gallup, one of the personalities in the book, remembers Mrs. Murray as an astute reporter and caring individual.
"I found her to be a gracious and thoughtful person and a sensitive observer of human nature and the passing American scene," he comments.
Diane Backes, president of the Backes Group, an advertising and marketing firm in Princeton, and who has known Mrs. Murray for a number of years, is impressed with her writing skill, but also notes her position as a role model for women. At a time, when opportunities for women were far more limited than they are today, Mrs. Murray was committed to her profession and excelled.
"I worked with Regina Murray on several of her personal projects and books," says Mrs. Backes. "I found her not only to be professional but a warm and sincerely genuine person. Her experience and dedication in her professional and personal life is an inspiration to all women."
Profiles in the Wind also includes a report of Mrs. Murray's meeting with Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa in New York's South Bronx in 1979. Known for her unparalleled aid and assistance to impoverished people in India, Mother Teresa made a profound impression on all who saw her that day.
"She was the most magnificent person," recalls Mrs. Murray. "She was truly authentic. I remember she said, 'You don't have to look very far to find the poor. In fact, you should look first at your own family. Are you neglecting your parents? Are you giving them love?
"'Look next at your neighbors. Then look at your city and, finally, the world. Sometimes a person is poor only because there is no love in his or her life.'"
Because of her love and admiration for her father, Mrs. Murray had always hoped one day to write a book about him. "As a child, I wrote down many of the stories my father told me. I always said some day I would write about him. It took a long while, but finally, I had the time, and I did it. I went to Ireland to do some research about his ancestors, and I found the grave of my great-grandfather in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo. I also met distant relatives, who were wonderful people.
"As a writer, I looked up to my father. He said it's easy to write long convoluted sentences. The hard part is to make them simple and concise."
Good advice for any writer, she adds.
During World War II, Mr. Waldron suspended operation of the Trenton News because so many of the staff resigned to enlist in the military. He was then asked by New Jersey Governor Walter Edge to take on the role of Director of Salvage for the state, as a volunteer.
Later, Mr. Waldron was elected to the Trenton City Commission and became Commissioner of Revenue and Finance.
In 1993, Mrs. Murray achieved her goal, and her book, The Last One Up the Hill .... A Biography of Thomas F. Waldron, was published.
Also in that year, she was contributing author of Upon This Rock: the History of the Diocese of Trenton.
Family and friends have played a very important role in Mrs. Murray's life ? "My family is my proudest achievement!", she emphasizes. She also has the ability to make friends and keep them whether from college, tennis, journalism, or going back even further to early school days.
Ann Convery, a friend from grammar school, admires Mrs. Murray's ability to balance all the varied components in her life so smoothly. "Wife, mother, grandmother, artist, author, active women's club member, exemplary friend, and among friends, A Star!
"Over 50 years ago, Jean married a B-17 pilot and had four marvelous children, who gave her nine grandchildren, all of whom are close to her. She and Holt Murray, her pilot, are still the best company for an evening!"
Another friend of long-standing, Eleanor Matthiesen, has known Mrs. Murray since the third grade. "Jean is a wonderful person and has been a marvelous friend over the years. When I say she's a good friend, it's in every sense of the word. When things are great, she's there, and when they're not, she's there. In good times and bad times, she's there. I feel very blessed to have had her as a friend all these years."
Mrs. Murray points out that Princeton is filled with interesting people with whom spending time is stimulating and pleasurable.
"There are so many fascinating people in Princeton. And they are not idle. They are always doing something for the benefit of others. I have always felt if you're lonely, it's your own fault. There are just so many ways to volunteer and help others."
Mrs. Murray has also enjoyed the many activities and events available in Princeton, including attending productions at McCarter Theatre, auditing art classes at Princeton University, and having memberships in the Nassau Club and Present Day Club.
She also likes going to the Patriot Theatre at the War Memorial in Trenton, noting, "My husband's grandfather, C. Edward Murray, was one of a handful of people who raised the funds, by popular subscription, to build the Memorial."
Despite a busy schedule, Mrs. Murray reads three newspapers a day The New York Times, the Trenton Times, and the Wall Street Journal as well as the local weekly papers. The printed word is a never-ending source of fascination for her.
Spending time with her children and grandchildren and now a new great-grandson ? is a major priority, and she is very proud of them.
"I look forward to being with them, especially watching the younger generation and seeing them going on with their lives, being good citizens and good human beings. My grandchildren have always had a real work ethic. They started early, shoveling snow, raking leaves, etc., and they grew up with it. They have always tried to help other people."
Helping others is a very important part of Mrs. Murray's philosophy, and it also reflects the impact of World War II, when she witnessed the sacrifices that were made.
"There was an unselfishness then, a purity of spirit, and people doing things larger than themselves with no sense of personal reward or gain. An unselfishness that was universal," she explains.
She thinks that such a sense of purpose can also be applied to today's world, however different it is from the early 1940s.
"People tend to get caught up in the little things," she points out. "Pick your priorities in life. If you have your priorities right and lead the best possible life you can, you not only help your country, but your fellow human beings. Then you have lived a good life."