Wave Staff Report
LOS ANGELES — Black leaders here and throughout the state are remembering the life and accomplishments of Willard H. Murray Jr., an engineer and U.S. Air Force veteran who served in the state Legislature from 1988 to 1996.
Murray died on Dec. 20 of natural causes. He was 91.
“It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to our former chair and colleague, … Willard H. Murray Jr.,” said a statement issued by the California Legislative Black Caucus. “Willard Murray Jr. was an exceptional man and public servant.”
Murray represented the 52nd Assembly District serving South Los Angeles until term limits forced him to step down. He and his son, Kevin Murray, made history as the first father-and-son duo to serve in the Assembly together.
Kevin Murray represented the 47th Assembly District and later represented the 26th state Senate District in Sacramento.
Willard Murray worked in government for more than 25 years at various levels. Before he was elected to the Assembly, he worked for former Lt. Gov. and U.S. Rep. Mervyn Dymally. He also served on the staffs of former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and two former Los Angeles City Councilmembers, Robert Farrell and Billy Mills.
In the Assembly, he chaired the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on State Administration and served on a number of other committees. A civil rights activist in the 1960s, Murray’s political and legislative priorities included education, criminal justice, economic development and health care.
After leaving the Legislature, Murray was elected to serve on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California in 1998. He also served on the board of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
“Willard had a long, distinguished career as a leader and public servant in our state. He was giant in the water industry and a champion for the districts he served,” said Dale Hunter, executive director of the California African American Water Education Foundation.
Hunter said Murray introduced African American professionals, including himself, to the water industry, teaching them the ins and outs, mentoring them, and guiding them so that they moved ahead in their careers.
“Willard truly made a difference,” Hunter added. “He was not afraid of diving into policy and making changes that needed to happen. I’m thankful for his contributions and saddened by him leaving us. I’m also grateful for his teaching. I definitely would not be where I am if it were not for his influence.”
“We have lost a beloved member of the WRD family,” district President John Allen said. “During Willard’s tenure, WRD built recycled water plants in Long Beach and Pico Rivera, a desalter in Torrance, and many facilities throughout the district to remediate contaminated groundwater.
“He was an early champion and advocate of WRD’s Water Independence Now initiative to eliminate reliance on imported water to meet the district’s replenishment needs. Willard made an indelible imprint on water supply reliability in Southern California. The region and state are lasting beneficiaries of his many contributions.”
“Willard was a big part of WRD’s history,” Director Rob Katherman added, “and the benefits of his service will be part of his legacy for years to come. But his service to Los Angeles and the region goes back to the 1960s when Willard was an early and forceful civil rights advocate who became the first African American to serve in the administration of Mayor Sam Yorty. That is a part of his legacy we should not forget.”
“For over 35 years, Willard was a trusted friend and colleague,” director Vera Robles DeWitt said. “One thing to know is that he was a stickler for proper parliamentary procedure, often reminding colleagues in a friendly way of the finer points of Robert’s Rules of Order. We will miss his sense of humor and outsized presence on the board.”
The Water Replenishment District named its board room after Murray in 2018. Last year, he was designated as president emeritus of the WRD Board.
Murray earned a bachelor of science degree from Cal State Northridge, a juris doctorate from Loyola Law School, and a master’s in business administration from from Loyola Marymount University.
In 1956, he married Barbara Farris Murray. The couple had two children, Kevin and Melinda, who are both attorneys.