A tribute to investigative journalist, columnist

Rick Murphy, Longtime Indy Editor, Dies at 70




Rick Murphy

Rick Murphy, who worked for the Independent for 17 years, died on July 21 at the age of 70 at Southampton Hospital. His wife Karen Fredericks was by his side.

As one of the most established journalists in Suffolk County, Murphy held awards from national and New York and Long Island newspaper associations. He has been nominated for a Pulitzer award twice and he was a six-time winner of New York Press Association’s award for Best Column.

Murphy worked a number of jobs before his journalism career began in 1987, holding positions at The Sag Harbor Herald, The East Hampton Star and The New York Times.

He joined The Independent as Editor-In-Chief in 2003 and, in 2016, he was named co-Executive Editor, a position he held until June.

Rick was known for his investigative journalism. He uncovered greed and corruption across the East End for decades, including East Hampton Town’s misuse of the Community Preservation Fund, which brought on a county investigation.

He told the stories of those abused by pedophile priests on Long Island. He did extensive coverage of Deepwater Wind Farm. He wrote in-depth about local and state politics, hosting debates with candidates at The Independent office. He was also a supporter of high school sports and covered the Bridgehampton Killer Bees basketball team extensively over the years.

Not only was he an acclaimed investigative journalist, Murphy also interviewed many of the great rock and roll legends of the ’60s and ’70s. The most recent was John Lodge of the Moody Blues, who performed at Suffolk Theater right before the COVID-19 shutdown. In 2014 he led a special pre-concert Q&A with The Zombies at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

Aside from a nose for news, Murph’s personality shined through in his “Rick’s Space” column.

He was married to Fredericks, also a writer and cartoonist, on May 4, 1996.

He wrote about their East Hampton home together in a recent column in The Independent. “It was brand new when we moved in 24 years ago, a week before we got married, so we matured together, that is if we are indeed mature, which is questionable, at least in my case.”

Rick and Karen celebrating their 22nd anniversary at The Palm in East Hampton.

As a tradition, the two spent every anniversary dining at the Palm Restaurant in East Hampton. He was a fan of fine foods and often detailed his love of cooking.

“I’m all up in Thanksgiving. Despite my somewhat cynical public persona, we’re all about giving and caring at our house,” he wrote in his column in 2018.

“I like to honor my forefathers by cooking a suitable Thanksgiving feast. Well, actually, it was my foremothers who did the cooking because my forefathers, like most of the men in my family, were inveterate gamblers who bet on just about everything, especially football games. That doesn’t work nowadays, because, as many regular readers know, Karen is incapable of cooking anything edible. Once, early in our marriage, she insisted on cooking a holiday dinner. All of us, including her family, sat around with a foreboding sense of dread. Many of us drank heavily, even the children,” he continued.

Murphy was born May 11, 1950 to parents Stanley Murphy and Eleanor Murphy (nee: Forcucci). He studied at S. Augustine High School in Brooklyn and graduated from Long Island University. He later taught writing at Southampton College.

Rick grew up in Brooklyn and spent summers in Sag Harbor before moving to the East End full time. He often wrote about his family in his column.

His grandfather Enrico Forcucci was the first to establish roots in Sag Harbor. He was drafted by the U.S. Army after becoming a citizen and fought in World War I. “His name is on the big rock by Otter Pond across from Mashashimuet Park with the other VFW members,” Murphy wrote.

“He left a wife and daughter in Italy and came back to Sag Harbor after the war, eventually buying the little white house at the foot of Howard Street that was split in two and shared with another Italian family. Then he sent for my grandmother, Fillippa, and my oldest aunt, Adelia. He had two more daughters, Lucille and my mother, Elenora.”

“He was Big Rico, so of course they called me Little Rick. He took a shine to me,” Murphy recalled.

Many times Murphy wrote about his childhood summers in Sag Harbor.

“My generation seemed tougher than this one,” he wrote. “My mom went to Pierson in Sag Harbor and she said the school never closed and she never missed a day. Kids got sick, just like today, but they got up and went to school. ‘That’s because it was a privilege to go to school,’ she related. As an immigrant’s daughter, there was tremendous pressure on her to succeed. That meant she had to deal with Papa, who was a Sicilian, or go to school. School was easier.

“I wasn’t a tough kid, but I had smarts,” he recalled. “I wasn’t very pugnacious, but I became a very fast runner and befriended the biggest kids. Once in a while, though, someone would accuse me of being a bigmouth (how dare they?) or even worse, being obnoxious (me?). That meant I’d have to duke it out.”

“My big sister and brother called me, the baby of the family, Klumpus,” he said. “That’s because I must have been a little awkward.”

In 2017, he interviewed his mother for an article in The Independent titled “Remembering Sag Harbor Circa 1937.”

“They didn’t let us go out at night,” Eleanor said of her parents. “The Italians were very strict.”

The home, built in the 1770s, did not have heat other than a stove in the kitchen. They’d place hot bricks under the beds to keep warm at night. The home did not include an indoor bathroom, but an outhouse in the yard.

Eleanor left for Brooklyn State Nursing School where she met her husband Stanley Murphy. “He worked at Brooklyn State for 40 years and eventually rose steadily up the ranks to the top spot: Director of Nursing,” read the article.

The family returned to Sag Harbor, with Rick and his two siblings, every summer. “It started to change. It seemed a little classier,” his mother recalled.

“Mostly there are the memories,” Murphy wrote. “The generations who shared the trips to Long Beach, the clams on the half shell, the plump heirloom tomatoes from Enrico’s garden and the hot fudge sundaes at the Paradise.

“The old brass post office box 874, about 120 years old, is still in the family. While Grandma was still in Italy she would send Papa love letters to that box. Stanley would send letters to Eleanor while he was in the city, and so on.”

Murphy was also an animal lover and supported animal rescue foundations like Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons and RSVP Rescue Dogs. Once he shaved his head to raise $5,000 for RSVP, an organization run by Frank and Linda Mosca.

The Indy team with Rick as he shaved his head, while raising $5,000, to help animals. Independent/James J. Mackin

The story appeared on the cover of The Independent on May 16, 2007. “I realized how much he and his wife were doing for the dogs and my wife Karen and I decided to help out the best we could,” Murphy wrote. He pledged to shave his head if he could raise $5,000. To make it more dramatic, he held off on a haircut for six months prior. “Most of the money came in $10 and $15 donations from dog lovers,” he said. “It really touched me.”

“He’s such a funny guy that you wouldn’t expect such deep wells of tenderness,” his wife said at the time.

Rick & Jerry as Mini Me and Dr. Evil.

The caption for the cover image read: “When David Wright of the New York Mets shaved his head last week, his teammates, in show of solidarity, shaved theirs. No such loyalty at The Independent. The staff did, however, model a trunk load of wigs for Rick to select from while his dome refurbishes itself.”

Around the same time, Murphy wrote a column that included an image of himself and Jerry Della Femina, the paper’s publisher at the time, as Dr. Evil and Mini Me from the movie “Austin Powers.”

Services have not yet been announced.