More than half a century ago, Robert “Whitie” Murray realized there was a problem with Amsterdam: There was no place for kids to play football.
“So he got together with two other guys and started a league,” said Jim Lomanto, a friend of Murray. “He wasn’t even a football player. He just saw a need.”
According to Lomanto, Ed Brosnan had the money, Dr. Fred Pipito was the brains and Murray did all the work. They called the league the Little Giants.
Today, the Amsterdam Little Giants league lives on — flourishing with more than 300 kids a year and a dedicated field — but the founders are now all gone.
Murray died of cancer Thursday morning at age 92, the last of the three founders to go.
“He was just a great guy,” Lomanto said. “He cared about the kids.”
Murray also was known as the Santa of St. Mary’s Hospital.
For 60 years, he donned the red suit, padding his 32-inch waistline with a pillow.
Lomanto said Murray always made two hospital trips a year — one to ask nurses how many kids were bound for a sick-bed holiday, the second as Santa with presents for each kid.
“He bought every one of them a present,” he said. “Wouldn’t take money from anyone.”
According to Lomanto, Murray used the same ethic with the Little Giants.
They never actually coached together, though — Murray stepped away from the Little Giants a few decades ago, years before Lomanto’s 15-year coaching stint with the league.
But they did work together at Brown’s Transporation, where Lomanto is a supervisor and Murray drove school buses.
“He was always telling football stories,” Lomanto said. “The Little Giants was a labor of love.”
In those early years, the organization operated on the cheap. Murray owned Murray’s Service Station on Guy Park Avenue in Amsterdam.
Before the season, Pipito would be in the service station’s back room performing free physicals for the children.
“They had to have physicals,” Lomanto said.
Football gear was handed down from area high school teams, tailored to fit the smaller kids. The accompanying cheerleader outfits were handmade by Murray’s wife Helen and four daughters.
“It was really a family thing,” he said. “He didn’t want it to be expensive for the kids.”
Now, roughly 55 years since Murray set up Pipito for gas-station physicals, the Little Giants are still playing.
“We have a 100-yard field with drainage and night lights,” said Little Giants Executive Director Chris Iorio.
Iorio is gearing up for another season.
He said roughly 300 kids are slated to play in a few age groups.
“It’s all because Whitie had a vision,” he said.
Murray is survived by four daughters, Genice Hovak, Susan Liberantowski, Margaret Black and Patricia Fidura, and four sons, David, Paul, Kenneth and James Murray.
Private graveside services will be held this spring at Chuctanunda Cemetery in Minaville. There are no calling hours.
Memorial gifts in Murray’s name can be made to the Amsterdam Little Giants Football League, P.O. Box 624, Amsterdam, NY 12010.