Retired Navy Commander Michael McRoberts MacMurray, 77, died September 7, 2019, in Arlington, VA, in the company of his wife Corinne and other close family members following an emergency hospitalization on Labor Day. CDR MacMurray ultimately succumbed to complications of cardiac arrest.
MacMurray is survived by his wife of two years and devoted partner of almost 15 years, Corinne M. Antley of Arlington, VA; his son John Julian Wilkins IV (Pamela) and granddaughter Alexis Gabrielle Hall Wilkins of Atlanta, GA; and four siblings, Timothy Bruce MacMurray (Wendy) of Carpinteria, CA, Helen Jean MacMurray Ramsey of Daytona Beach, FL, Christopher Martin MacMurray (Beth) of Hilton Head, SC, and Gregory Keith MacMurray (Brenda) of Cranbury, NJ. He is also survived by his father-in-law, Eugene Brevard Antley of Edinboro, PA; his step-sons, William Brewton McGrath of Berkeley, CA and John Winston McGrath of Washington, DC; 17 nieces and nephews; a growing number of great-nieces and nephews; and a legion of devoted friends. MacMurray was predeceased by his parents, Kenneth Gregory MacMurray and Margaret McRoberts Brunn MacMurray; by a younger sister, Deirdre Ann MacMurray Ryan; and, in 2001, by his then-wife, Susan C. Ludlow-MacMurray.
MacMurray was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where descendants of his German Lutheran ancestor, Friedrich August Brunn (1773-1849), court minister of the Duchy of Nassau, settled in the 1850s. MacMurray grew up in West Islip and Schenectady, NY. His great-great uncle William H. MacMurray was a name partner in Harrison, Corbett and MacMurray, one of the two architectural firms that designed Rockefeller Center.
After graduating from Dartmouth College with an AB degree in 1964, MacMurray joined the U.S. Navy. He quickly progressed through the ranks, becoming a Lieutenant in 1967, a Lieutenant Commander in 1971 and a Commander in 1978. In 1973, at the request of the Navy, MacMurray earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. His Navy service included stints as Officer in Charge, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Philippines Detachment, Penang, Malaysia; Supply Officer, USS Claude V. Ricketts (DDG5); Defense Resources Manager, Force Planning and Programming Division, for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Country Director, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, for the Defense Security Assistance Agency.
As Chief of the Near East/South Asia Division of the Defense Security Assistance Agency, characterized by a superior officer as “the most important, difficult and challenging [division] in the Agency,” CDR MacMurray was described by his superiors as “a brilliant and extremely capable naval officer with exceptional potential for command and leadership positions at the highest levels of government.” The same annual review of CDR MacMurray stated that “he was [the reviewer’s] personal selection to lead joint State/Defense teams to Kuwait and Bahrain . . . . [MacMurray] has my every confidence and trust, and that of [senior Pentagon officials] in delicate negotiations as our personal representative within the highest levels of the Executive Branch, with Capitol Hill, the ministerial levels of foreign governments, and the corporate leaders of industry.”
Following his retirement from the Navy in 1985, MacMurray served for many years in the policy division of the U.S. Department of Defense, including as Deputy Director, Western Hemisphere Affairs. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, in his book, Fighting for Peace, cited MacMurray, his desk officer for Saudi Arabia and “an experienced Middle East hand,” as among those who assisted Weinberger in securing an agreement with Saudi Arabia in 1987 to use their AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) for the benefit of the United States.
After MacMurray’s retirement from the Pentagon in 2014, he drafted a thoughtful assessment of his participation in the Vietnam War, which was published by Dartmouth College in a compilation of essays by members of the Dartmouth Class of ’64 entitled, Dartmouth Veterans: Vietnam Perspectives. In 2015, he embarked enthusiastically on a Dartmouth-sponsored tour of Vietnam and Cambodia with a number of his former college classmates.
MacMurray loved everything Scottish (with his middle name and surname reflecting his Scottish ancestry on both sides of his family), and was happiest when he was on or near the water, particularly the Atlantic Ocean. For many years, he owned beach property in Duck, NC. Later, while courting his future wife Corinne, he bought “Mill Hill,” an historic riverfront home on the North River in Gloucester, VA, where, for 10 years, they enjoyed books, music, antiquing, “toe-gardening” (Michael pointed; Corinne planted), and combing the waterfront for shards of Colonial pottery, glass and metal with their Golden Retriever Elsa. His oft-expressed desire was to host a Christmas party at Mill Hill attired in his Murray of Atholl kilt — worn in the traditional Scottish manner, of course.
MacMurray was a life-long student of government, politics, and world history who surrounded himself with stacks of recently published books. He wryly displayed a framed copy of the B. Smaller cartoon in The New Yorker in which a middle-aged gentleman explains his book-laden study to a female visitor by saying: “Those are the books I never had a chance to finish, and those are the books I never had a chance to start.” The week of his death, MacMurray was reading both George Marshall: Defender of the Republic and Siege: Trump Under Fire. He also enjoyed spy thrillers and mysteries.
CDR MacMurray was a proud, long-time member of American Legion Post 20, Washington, DC, which meets at The National Press Club, of which he was also a member. Until late April when his health began to decline, MacMurray could often be found mid-day at the Press Club’s Reliable Source Bar & Grill, poring over several newspapers while trading quips and political insights with fellow Press Club or American Legion members.
MacMurray’s sometimes gruff and exacting manner was more than balanced by his kind, sentimental side. His eyes would fill with sudden tears at the mention of a deceased friend or family member, and he was the first to remember birthdays and anniversaries with books, cards or flowers. He never forgot a friend, and countless young people seeking new positions or attempting to further their military or government careers benefitted from MacMurray’s generous, perceptive advice.
MacMurray received numerous honors, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, March 27, 2020.
The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, you consider a donation either to the charity of your choice or, alternatively, to one of CDR MacMurray’s favorite charities: American Field Service, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, or Planned Parenthood.