John E. Murphy, Sr. [1943-2013]; Port crane operator had been a track star


John E. Murphy, Sr., who with exacting skill operated the biggest of the big cranes at the Port of Toledo, died Wednesday in his Perrysburg home. He was 69.

“John was pretty much a master at what he did,” said Paul Toth, president and chief executive of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “With the right equipment, he could tie your shoe on the deck of a boat with a clam bucket.”

Mr. Murphy learned of his neuroendocrine cancer in November, his wife, Barbara, said. He worked until a month ago, often returning to the job after undergoing chemotherapy. He last ran a crane on Easter weekend, but he still reported to work.

“He was a strong man,” his son, John, Jr., said.

The last eight years, Mr. Murphy was a crane supervisor for Midwest Terminals, which took over operation of the cranes at the port, including those nicknamed Big Lucas and Little Lucas. Before that, the port authority ran the cranes, and Mr. Murphy was port facilities manager. He made sure the streets were plowed and the grass cut, and he oversaw training of crane operators.

Most of all, he was at the controls of Big Lucas and Little Lucas, unloading from vessels almost everything that arrived at the port — Volkswagens, lumber, pipe, heavy transformers for power plants.

“He was responsible for his babies. They were absolutely his babies — Big and Little Lucas,” Mr. Toth said. “We used to joke that John would burp them before he would go home at night.”

He had exceptional hand-eye coordination, his wife and son said. Mr. Toth said that Mr. Murphy took great care, fully aware that he was lifting and swinging objects in the vicinity of 20 or 30 other workers.

“John measured 10 times and cut once, as a good analogy. He was very much concerned about safety and the people around him,” said Mr. Toth, who has been at the port authority since the late 1980s. “He was the most conscientious employee I can think of who ever worked for the port authority.”

Mr. Murphy also became proficient in the new-style cranes introduced at the port in 2010 and nicknamed Muddy and Spike.

He was hired by the port authority in 1978. Before that, he operated heavy equipment on highway and construction projects as a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

He was born Sept. 6, 1943, in Omaha to Alice and Raymond Murphy. He spent much of his young life in South Bend, Ind., before the family moved to South Toledo in 1960. He ran track and cross country for Central Catholic High School. He received a track scholarship to Miami University, which he attended for two years.

As a young man, he played golf and tennis.

“When you work 60, 80, 100 hours a week, that doesn’t happen,” his son said. He did adjust his schedule to attend family school and sports events.

“Dad would work all day, and even if they had a ship, he’d take his break, watch my game, and go back to work,” said his son, who played football and wrestled for Rossford High School. “He wanted to do what was best for me. I’m eternally grateful. If I can be half the man to my children that my dad was, I’ll be father of the year.”

Mr. Murphy was a fan of University of Notre Dame football.

Surviving are his wife, Barbara, whom he married Feb. 14, 1998; sons, John E., Jr., Kevin, and Michael; daughter, Renee Murphy; stepsons, Jacob, Bart, JP, and Noah Smock; brother, Daniel Murphy; eight grandchildren, and six step-grandchildren. His previous marriage to the former Barbara Solomon ended in divorce.

Services are at 10 a.m. today in All Saints Church, Rossford, where he was a member. Arrangements are by the Bersticker-Scott Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the church or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.