Monroe County’s Donald Lowie is awarded the Carnegie Medal for his heroic efforts in saving a girl from two attacking dogs. Here, Lowrie, left, is seen with Commissioner Sylvia Murphy receiving the 2018 Employee of the Year award. CONTRIBUTED

Pastor Kerry Foote wasn’t going to talk about former Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy in the past tense during a celebration of life on Dec. 19 inside a packed Murray Nelson Government Center auditorium. Everything that made Murphy, from her spirit to her humor and spunk, was still alive. 

“It’s not to say goodbye to Sylvia. We say, shalom,” Foote said. 

A Keys resident since 1954, Murphy passed away at the age of 86 on Nov. 26. A dedicated public servant, she spent several years with Monroe County Emergency Medical Services and two decades with the Tavernier Fire Department. Desires to advocate for Keys residents led her to run for Monroe County Commission, where she was elected to District 5 in 2006. She represented her constituents in the Upper Keys and throughout the island chain until 2020 when she decided to retire. 

In the auditorium, family, friends, county officials and the community fondly remembered times they shared with Murphy. With a video depicting Murphy’s life and all the people who crossed her path came stories shared by several people in the crowd. Daughter Billie Jean stood before the 100-plus people in attendance to relay just how special Murphy was to her. 

“I’m very blessed to have such a wonderful mother, and that I get to share her with all of you. All of you think of her as mom or best friend. But all I can say is she was the best mom in the whole wide world.”

She also looked back on her younger years growing up with her brother, Tommy.

“If we skinned our knees or elbows, she’d say, ‘Are you bleeding?’ We’d say ‘no.’ She’d say ‘Is your head on your shoulders?’ We’d say ‘yes.’ She’d say, ‘Then keep on going,’” she said. 

A memorial for Sylvia Murphy sits on the stage inside the Murray Nelson Government Center for a celebration of life ceremony. CONTRIBUTED

Stephanie Scuderi said Murphy never pushed her into politics. But she encouraged her to pursue community service and told her to join an affordable housing advisory committee. 

“She was a complete inspiration and always had a jovial attitude,” she said. “Monroe County is a better county because of Sylvia Murphy.” 

County Administrator Roman Gastesi was hired in May 2008, during Murphy’s time on the county commission. Gastesi told the crowd that Murphy didn’t vote for him to take the position, but another candidate who had many years in the county. It was something Gastesi reminded Murphy about at times as he smiled. 

“Once she got to know you and supported you, boy, was she behind you 100% of the time,” he said. 

Foote, who officiated the ceremony, said he was blessed to have Murphy as a member of Burton Memorial United Methodist Church in Tavernier. In Foote’s office hangs something special that Murphy bestowed on him — the Honorary Conch.

“Usually with most celebrations of life, I start with reading the obituary of the person with whom we celebrate or read a written statement,” Foote said. “That statement lists all the accomplishments and impacts that person has on society. If that’s what I was going to do today, we’d be here a long, long time.” 

Foote said Murphy’s will came with a statement on how she wanted to be remembered. She loved her family. She enjoyed every moment living in Tavernier since 1954. And her good life  was spent with family, friends and her church. 

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.