On the sidelines of a Colonel soccer match in late October, the incoming Nicholls president walks through the crowd without attracting much attention. Wearing a university baseball cap and a Nicholls tee pulled over his dress shirt, he reaches for his long-lens camera and starts photographing the action. Only two weeks have passed since he was selected for the job, but he already looks like he belongs here. Like he is proud of this place.
“I hear it’s been quite a season,” he says of the soccer team’s then-undefeated run. “I coached my daughter’s soccer team to a perfect season once — 0-8 — we lost every game. When they called for dads to participate, I thought I’d be putting out the orange cones, not coaching.” He laughs at the memory then goes back to cheering on his new team — the Colonels.
Meet Dr. Bruce T. Murphy, the fifth president of Nicholls. He’s a retired lieutenant colonel who served 23 years in the U.S. Army. He’s a five-time college graduate who attended some of the nation’s most elite universities. He’s an accomplished academian who’s been a leadership and management professor, a business school dean and, most recently, a vice president of academic affairs.
But beyond his resume, he’s a down-to-earth man who loves bragging about his wife, enjoys a nice round of golf and carries a black and red backpack rather than a briefcase. Not the stereotypically rigid military-type or stuffy administrator, Murphy can tell adventure stories for days about the pancake breakfast he worked with John Wayne, his trip to the British School of Falconry and the time he competed on Cross-Wits, a nationally televised game show.
“You know, I anticipate that I’ll be at Nicholls long enough to tell many of these stories for years to come. You don’t want to get them all at the same time, do you?” he teases before revealing that he and celebrity partner Betty White won the final round of Cross-Wits. His prize package? A portable dishwashing machine, two suitcases, a Polaroid camera and a trip to the Virgin Islands … for one. “I went, but it was terrible,” he says with a laugh.
Murphy grew up in Encino, Calif., where dinner conversations often revolved around which celebrity his mother had run into at the grocery store that day. Despite his proximity to Hollywood, he led a pretty typical childhood — participating in Boy Scout activities and playing high school varsity football. His dream was to earn an English degree, serve two years in the Army and then become a high school teacher and coach.
A quite unusual college experience, however, shifted his career path. Murphy began his studies at the University of San Francisco, then moved back home to attend junior college, before finally landing at the University of California, Berkeley.
“In those four years, I lived in a dorm, at home, in an apartment and in a fraternity house; I had the whole gamut of student experiences,” he says. “Interestingly, I pledged a fraternity as a senior and was elected president. It was very bizarre but fun.”
During his senior year in Berkeley’s ROTC, Murphy qualified for an Army fellowship that would pay his way to graduate school.
“I was definitely not thinking of graduate school at the time, but it was just a deal I couldn’t pass up, and the Army kept offering me opportunities like that,” he recalls. “I didn’t say, ‘Hey, I think I’ll spend the next 20 years of my life in the Army.’ It just happened and seemed to pass by very quickly.”
During his Army career, Murphy spent nine years on college campuses — as either a student or professor — and another nine years serving overseas, mostly in Germany and Central America. His stint also included assignments with Reagan’s Presidential Inauguration Committee and at the Pentagon, where he met his wife, Jeanne, a U.S. Army colonel and former international athlete.
For the past couple of years, Murphy has been searching for an opportunity at the next level — a university presidency. From the moment he and Jeanne stepped foot on the Thibodaux campus, they sensed something different. They noticed a unique university culture where people were proud of their work and their region.
“Being named president was a moment I’ll treasure forever,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘When it’s right, you’ll know it, and they’ll know it. At Nicholls, it certainly feels that way to me.”
— Written by Stephanie Detillier Verdin, publications coordinator
This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Voila! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.