New Jersey's First Lady is no stranger to Grounds

Although the outcome of Virginia’s gubernatorial election in November will have the most immediate impact to University students, New Jersey’s race for governor had its own ties to Grounds. Tammy Snyder Murphy, wife of New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D), is a University alumna and currently serves as a member of the Board of Visitors.

The campaign trail

Murphy served as one of the closest advisors on her husband’s campaign from the day he announced his bid for New Jersey’s next governor in May 2016. He won the New Jersey race for governor Nov. 7, beating out Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Murphy has been a leader within the Democratic Party in a number of capacities, including serving as the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the Obama Administration.

Throughout the campaign, Murphy’s importance was clear to others — New Jersey State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R), a friend of the Murphy family, told The Wall Street Journal in August that Murphy was “without question” the “most potent advisor” to her husband.

“Phil and I have been teammates for nearly 24 years,” Murphy said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We have worked seamlessly on everything from personal to professional endeavors, and we are — without exaggeration — of one mindset. I have never felt as strongly as I do at this moment about what needs to be done here in NJ and — because of that — I am ‘all in.’”

Then-Ambassador Philip D. Murphy signing the guest book of Cologne. Standing behind: Wife Tammy Murphy, Mayor Jürgen Roters, chairwoman of Amerika Haus e. V. NRW Jeane von Oppenheim © Raimond Spekking / via Wikimedia Commons

For Murphy, being “all in” meant being involved “24/7 in literally every aspect of the campaign.” From proofreading and editing to getting coffee to fundraising to speaking at events, Murphy wore a lot of hats, and she said every day was different.

“While every day is completely atypical, I would say that there are a few recurring themes,” Murphy said. “First, there are no ‘gimmees.’ By that, I mean that we work long hours every single day and that there is no substitute for showing up.”

Although the election is over, Murphy said life is just as busy as before. With a month and a half until the inauguration, transition efforts for New Jersey’s government are in full swing. Murphy said that once the transition is complete, she will focus on being an “active and engaged” first lady.

“I have been engaged in many interests in my professional and personal life, whether it be education, the environment, health care, the arts, or charitable endeavors,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s willingness to be engaged is nothing new, and her time on Grounds in the 1980s proves it.

A “traditional and happy” time on Grounds

Murphy graduated from the University in 1987 with a double-major in English and Communications before working in finance for many years at Goldman Sachs in the U.S. and Investcorp in Europe. She described her time on Grounds as “traditional and happy,” with involvement in a number of organizations, including a secret society. Murphy said she felt “confident and familiar” with the University before she matriculated because she was the third generation of her family to come to the University — her paternal grandfather, father and brother all attended as well.

What stood out to many who knew her was Murphy’s ability and willingness to take on leadership roles during her time on Grounds. In a letter to the editor published in The Cavalier Daily in February 1986, then-fourth-year College student Janet Schwitzer endorsed Murphy during her run for vice president of the College, a position which, at the time, also acted as vice chair of the Honor Committee.

“Of all the highly-qualified candidates, she stands out in my mind,” Schwitzer wrote. “She has the experience in working with the honor system and with people: she’s an honor advisor, peer stress educator, and a Madison House volunteer.”

Schwitzer went on to say that Murphy’s “people skills” were “more impressive,” highlighting the fact that she listened to everyone’s concerns. Murphy ultimately won the election and worked closely with Alex Arriaga — a Class of 1987 alumnus who served as president of the College and vice chair of the Honor Committee — who, like Schwitzer, attributed Murphy’s leadership partly to her listening skills.

“She’s a great leader because she listens to people — she really tries to hone in on what they key issues are, she’s a great friend, and a really loyal, strong advocate,” Arriaga said in a recent interview with The Cavalier Daily. “I think, really, she’s a really great listener but she’s a do-er as well.”

In her role on the Honor Committee, Murphy oversaw the Honor Advisors, now known as Honor Support Officers. Arriaga said Murphy’s intelligence and kindness, as well as her ability to be strategic and collaborative, helped her ensure everyone’s experience with the Honor system ran smoothly.

“It can be a very tough experience, extremely tough, for all sides,” Arriaga said. “Tammy really did a great job in making sure the Honor Advisors not only knew the process well, but really knew how to support individuals and also to do it both responsibly and in a way that would be supportive for other students.”

Outside of her contributions to the University community, Murphy said she had many great memories from her time on Grounds — too many to count. One of those memories includes the day a huge snowstorm occurred in January 1987 and classes were cancelled — the same day she first met her husband, although they would meet again while working at Goldman Sachs years later.

“Although I was slated for a callback interview that morning, I was told that it would be rescheduled to a later date,” Murphy said. “Accordingly, some of my best pals and I threw on some blue jeans and headed for the Lawn to play football in the snow. About an hour later, I found out that my callback interview was actually happening at that moment! I had the audacity to venture into the Career Counseling Office in ripped up jeans, a U.Va. sweatshirt and hair in a ponytail, which is how I had my interview.”

However, Murphy’s memories on Grounds didn’t stop there — as a current member of the Board of Visitors, Murphy remains an active part of the University community.

A seat at the table

Thirty years after graduating from the University, Murphy is still contributing to the community today by serving as a member of the Board of Visitors. She said she is “beyond honored and humbled to serve on the Board,” which she joined July 2015 after being appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Murphy was a donor to the McAuliffe campaign, as well as to other Democratic candidates in Virginia.

“I associate U.Va. with tradition and yet it is also constantly evolving and building on its deep history with incredible academics, sports, programs and initiatives,” Murphy said. “Having been exposed to the workings of the university through my service on the [Advisory Board of the College Foundation at the University,] I always respected the Board of Visitors as the group responsible for absolute oversight of the university.”

Arriaga said looking back, Murphy’s role on the Board is something she would have expected.

“Tammy is the type of person who has so many friends in so many different sectors because she does care and she is smart and she works well with people from a lot of different backgrounds,” Arriaga said. “She really cares about how to make things work better. That makes her, among other things, a great candidate for the Board of Visitors.”

Murphy, who serves on a number of the Board’s committees and task forces, said she has focused primarily on the health system, advancement, academic and student life and research. She said she believes some of the Board’s major accomplishments during her time as a member include creating and implementing the Strategic Investment Fund, expanding research efforts and a “smooth process” in hiring both a new University president, James E. Ryan, and athletic director, Carla Williams.

Having served on a number of boards over time and currently a member of three education boards, Murphy said she is thankful to have the opportunity to bring some of her own experiences and perspectives to the University.

“I am grateful for a seat at the table to help steer our university into the future and bring some of my personal attributes as a female, an alumna, a person concerned with social justice and a person who has had time to reflect on the value of a U.Va. education,” Murphy said.