A Farewell to Dr. William Murphy Jr.

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It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Dr. William Murphy Jr., a longtime supporter of FIRST®, has passed away. We extend our deepest condolences to Dr. Murphy’s family and all his loved ones. He will be greatly missed by the FIRST community.

“Dr. Murphy was inspirational to me in creating FIRST over 30 years ago and he has been one of the mission’s strongest supporters ever since,” said FIRST Founder Dean Kamen. “His innovative work and his habit of keeping his father’s Nobel Prize tucked away in the closet, drove me to transform our culture into a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders. Dr. Murphy recognized that the key to this transformation was surrounding young people with mentors who championed their accomplishments.”

Dr. Murphy attended Harvard University and graduated in 1946. He received his M.D. in 1947 from the University of Illinois and studied physiologic instrumentation at MIT. Combining a passion for mechanical engineering with his expertise in medicine, he revolutionized the biomedical industry. His inventions include significant improvements on the early cardiac pacemakers, artificial kidneys, cardiac catheters, and disposable medical trays – including a collaboration to develop a flexible sealed blood bag for the transfusion of whole blood. Its first use was during the Korean War when Dr. Murphy took the device to the battlefields and created a simple system for rapid, air-free transfusions. He has co-authored 30 medical publications and advised many boards and companies. Dr. Murphy is also the son of the American physician William Parry Murphy, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1934 and Harriett Adams, the first woman to be licensed as a dentist in Massachusetts.


In 1958, Dr. Murphy founded Small Parts, Inc. to supply materials and tools to engineers—in any amount—to help facilitate completion of projects. Early FIRST® Robotics Competition rules required teams to build their robots only from what was in their Kit of Parts – and any item found in the Small Parts, Inc. catalog. At a time when internet shopping was in its infancy, the Small Parts, Inc. catalog was a treasured part of the yearly Kit of Parts. The catalog also included information about FIRST and a photo of the previous year’s champion robot.

Perhaps his most enduring contribution to FIRST was founding the prestigious Woodie Flowers Award in 1996. The Woodie Flowers Award celebrates effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design. Dr. Murphy created this award to recognize FIRST mentors who lead, inspire and empower others within FIRST. At the 2023 FIRST Championship presented by BAE Systems, past Woodie Flowers Award recipients presented the 28th award to Mark Buckner and led a cheering crowd in wishing Dr. Murphy a happy 100th birthday, as Dr. Murphy and his family and friends tuned in from his home in Florida.

Often recognized for his many achievements, Dr. Murphy received countless awards including the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award, the Distinguished Service Award of the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology (1985), American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering Founding Fellow (1993) and the FIRST Founder’s Award (2000).