Florida Reporter Overcomes Obstacles

By: Joe Strupp He never won a Pulitzer Prize, brought down a president, or exposed a chemical waste scandal. But to editors at the Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner, Vince Murray was one of the hardest working ? and one of the most effective ? journalists in America. During his 25 years at the newspaper (daily circulation 48,069), he not only penned columns and articles on everything from college basketball to the Persian Gulf War, he did so under difficult circumstances.

First there was the car accident in 1990 that left him partially paralyzed and virtually unable to walk. Then the quadruple bypass surgery three years ago that laid him up for two months. And, of course, the ongoing fight with diabetes that requires continued medical attention and a special diet.

If anything, such barriers only made Murray more determined to keep writing. "I thrive on it. I am a workaholic," Murray said from his newsroom desk in February, where he worked the keyboard with one hand. "I just like talking to people." Murray's wife Jimmie Sue, a Star-Banner employee whom he met at the paper in 1980, joked that her husband is "either awesome, or insane."

Aside from overcoming various medical limitations, Murray also made himself a name at the paper for having a hand in such a variety of endeavors. In recent years, he had regularly written one weekly editorial, two to three sports columns a week, a monthly book review, and at least two or three columns each month on political issues. "There have been months where I did 34 stories in one month across seven different [newspaper] sections," he said.

In addition, he found time to operate a number of side activities, including a biannual high school basketball tournament, day-long history symposiums at a local community college, and a monthly college and high school basketball scouting newsletter whose subscribers include the Boston Celtics. Murray often attended games in his wheelchair.

Murray, who moved from Maine to Florida in 1970, started stringing for the St. Petersburg Times and The Tampa Tribune before landing at the now-defunct St. Petersburg Independent, an evening daily, where he clerked, edited, and did "some game coverage." From there, he joined the Ocala paper in 1979 as assistant sports editor, then became sports editor in 1987. "My primary thing was Florida State [University] football and [University of] Florida basketball," said Murray.

Then on July 18, 1990, his life changed forever. An auto accident left him mostly paralyzed because he was born with a narrow spinal cord. "I was working from home after four months and doing sports columns," he recalled. Within a year, Murray was back at the paper, but not as sports editor. Instead he branched out into other writing assignments and added outside interests, such as going to more than 150 high school and college sports events each year after his bypass surgery (which kept him out for seven weeks in 2002).

Then, this year, in late February, Murray received another major blow. His physical challenges "just got out of control and I could not work at the office," he said, adding that it was his choice to leave the paper on Feb. 21 and that he's in the process of going on full-time disability.

But Murray has enrolled in an online college program on homeland security. He also hopes to lobby for changes in the federal Social Security disability program after discovering that he will receive only two-thirds of his salary in benefits and may lose part of that if he seeks outside income. "I plan to lobby my Congress people to allow people with a disability to make up to what they were making before they were disabled," Murray said. "I can be political now, and that appeals to me."


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