Charles H. Murphy Jr. (1920–2002)
Charles Haywood Murphy Jr. became the leader of his family businesses in 1941 at the age of twenty-one after his father suffered a stroke. Under his leadership, the family ownership of timber land, oil interests, and banking in southern Arkansas eventually became the Murphy Oil Corporation, a company with international operations.
Charles H. Murphy Jr. was born in El Dorado (Union County) on March 6, 1920, to Charles Haywood Murphy Sr. and Bertie Wilson Murphy. He had three sisters. In 1904, his father moved to El Dorado (Union County) to operate a bank and, by 1907, owned thirteen banks in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. Subsequently, he built a sawmill at Cargile (Union County), south of El Dorado, and then a railroad to supply the mill with timber from north Louisiana and areas in south Arkansas. Land acquisitions in south Arkansas and north Louisiana led to oil exploration ventures, which provided royalties and operating interests. Murphy’s father had him manumitted by court order at the age of sixteen so that he could legally transact business for himself, and Murphy entered the petroleum industry as an independent operator—not affiliated with some of the major companies already operating in the area—while in his teen years. When his father had a stroke in 1941, Murphy had to take over management of the various businesses.
Murphy attended the Gulf Coast Military Academy at age sixteen and then received extensive tutoring, primarily in French. He was a voracious reader. Murphy graduated from El Dorado High School in 1938 and married Johnnie Azelle Walker on October 12, 1938, and they resided in El Dorado. They had three sons and one daughter. He spent three years in the army during World War II and returned to lead the Murphy businesses, having selected M. C. Hoover to run them in his absence.
In 1946, Murphy and his siblings—Caroline M. Keller, Bertie M. Deming, and Theodosia M. Nolan—pooled their business interests into C. H. Murphy & Company. Murphy was selected as the managing partner. In 1950, C. H. Murphy & Company was incorporated as Murphy Corporation with Murphy as president, a position he held until 1972; he also served as chairman of the board until 1994.
Murphy Corporation developed oil properties in several states and also participated in the development of oil-producing properties in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, Canada, and Venezuela. Early entry in potential operations and vigorous leadership made Murphy Oil a viable corporation.
Murphy was also a major shareholder in the First National Bank of El Dorado; when this was acquired by First United Bancshares, Murphy served as chairman of the board. (First United Bancshares was, in turn, succeeded by BancorpSouth.) He served as chairman of the National Petroleum Council and as a director of the American Petroleum Institute. He also served seventeen years on the Arkansas Board of Higher Education, served ten years as a trustee of Hendrix College, and established the Murphy Institute of Political Economy at Tulane University in 1980. He served as a director of the Smithsonian Institution and as a trustee of the Ochsner Medical Institution.
Beyond serving on boards and providing funding, he was active as a lecturer on economics, responsible civic actions, energy, and education, never charging a fee. Among his many lectures were “The Effect of Environment on Business Strategy” at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, “Energy Alternatives for the Mid-21st Century” at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and “Reading, Writing and Thinking” at El Dorado High School.
Murphy also enjoyed yachting and wrote two books on the subject, Yachting Smart and Yachting Far.
Murphy died at his home in El Dorado on March 20, 2002, at the age of eighty-two and is buried at Arlington Cemetery in El Dorado.
For additional information:
Murphy Oil Corporation: A Story of Innovation. El Dorado, AR: Murphy Oil Corporation, 1994.
Obituary of Charles H. Murphy Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 24, 2002, p. 9B.
Obituary of Charles H. Murphy Jr. El Dorado News-Times. March 22, 2002, p. 3A.
John G. Ragsdale
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 10/16/2020