Union College students filled their chapel Friday to remember a senior who died just three months before he was to graduate.
Sean Murphy, 22, of Slingerlands, was killed in a car crash early Wednesday morning. Police have charged the driver, off-duty Rensselaer police Officer Mark Fusco, with driving while intoxicated.
Murphy’s friends chose to remember the way he lived, not the circumstances of his death. They tried to celebrate his life at Friday’s memorial by telling stories that made the weeping audience chuckle, giggle, and finally outright laugh.
It was their way of honoring a gentle prankster.
“He could make you laugh or instigate a hilarious situation, all in good nature,” said Daniel Gross.
To defuse — or was it heighten? — tensions on a long road trip, Murphy once kept one song on repeat for the length of time it took them to drive across Georgia, Gross recalled.
“Murph was the best co-pilot you could ask for, whether it was driving through states or through life,” Gross said.
Close friend Luke Johnson recalled being awakened by Murphy when he was on the edge of sleep.
“I don’t think there was anything as funny to Murph as a well-timed fart,” he said.
The audience howled with laughter.
Then he said somberly that he had anticipated a gathering soon after graduation of all their Sigma Chi fraternity brothers and alums. He hadn’t expected that it would happen in March, before everyone scattered.
“I always liked to joke with him that the first wedding to get the boys back together would be his,” he said.
But Johnson tried to focus on happier thoughts. He pulled up two texts he received from Murphy last year.
The first text: “Dude, we really had a bad feather disaster.” Johnson was driving and didn’t respond. Ten minutes later, he got another text.
“And I mean a feather disaster.”
So he called Murphy, and learned that his roommate had accidentally ripped his down comforter.
“And Murphy decided, rather than containing the feathers, he would make our room a snow globe,” Johnson said, deadpan. The audience howled with laughter.
“We had feathers in our room until the day we moved out.”
Teachers remembered Murphy, too.
“I could always count on him to be the one to laugh at my silly jokes,” psychology professor Erika Wells said in a statement.
And Murphy thanked her after every class, she added.
He was a psychology major.
English professor Jeanette Sargent said in a statement that she got to watch him mature over the years as he took her poetry classes. In her epic poetry class, she said, she always assigned him the harder passages to read aloud because he would do a thorough job.
She saw him hours before his death, strolling across campus.
“I remember thinking, he’s successfully made the transition from a teenager to a capable young man,” she said.
College President Stephen C. Ainlay told the assembled students that Murphy was always willing to help others, putting aside his jokes the instant he was needed.
“Union was made better by these qualities. Union was made better by Sean,” Ainlay said. “It’s like there is a tear, a hole in our community.”
Students said they were stunned that one of their own — someone so young and vibrant — could die. One friend, Daniel Costigon, said he decided God wanted Murphy.
“I think this time, in Murph’s case, God just needed to smile for a little bit,” he said.