“As I nod off to sleep, I think to myself, ‘How lucky can an old lady get?’ ”

Olga Murray, who, after a 37-year career as a Supreme Court staff attorney, founded a non-profit organization to aid the children of Nepal, died yesterday. She was 98.

Born into an ethnic Hungarian family in Transylvania, Romania, Murray immigrated to the United States at age 6. After growing up in New York and graduating from Columbia University and then the law school at George Washington University, Murray moved to California and passed the Bar exam in 1954.

Murray soon after began her work at the Supreme Court as a research attorney for Chief Justice Phil Gibson, whom she called “a hard taskmaster” with a “stern and forbidding” public demeanor, but who was a “marshmallow at heart” and who “treated his staff almost like family.” When Gibson retired in 1964, Murray joined Justice Stanley Mosk’s staff, where she stayed for the remainder of her time at the court. She said Mosk had “a great sense of humor and a gentle but firm manner.”

Murray (standing, second from left); Justice Mosk (seated, middle)

Murray claimed being a court attorney was “the best job in the law.” She said she “helped to write important decisions in the areas of civil rights, women’s rights and environmental policy.” But, nearing retirement, Murray found a different calling. During a vacation in Nepal to trek in the Himalayas, she said, “After returning to my sleeping bag one night, in a flash, I knew for certain what [I wanted to do after leaving the court] — somehow, I would find a way to educate Nepali children.”

In 1989 she founded what is now the Nepal Youth Foundation. Its mission is to “offer[ ] hope and opportunity to Nepal’s most impoverished children by providing them what is every child’s birthright: vital healthcare, education, and a safe environment.” Murray divided her time between her homes in Sausalito, California, and Kathmandu, Nepal.

Praise From Murray’s Former Court Colleagues

Murray is fondly remembered by attorneys with whom she worked at the court.

Beth Jay, who worked at the court for well over three decades, including serving three chief justices as their principal attorney (see here and here; Beth is currently of counsel at Horvitz & Levy), wrote: “Olga had the office across from mine when I first started at the court. It didn’t take long to realize that her cheerful and open demeanor was backed up by a sharp intellect and a creative mind. I have been in awe of her work in Nepal, where she applied her talent to creating programs that saved and supported thousands of children and their families. She’s a shining example of how one person really can make a difference. I’ll miss her.”

Jake Dear was an attorney at the court for 40 years, rising to the position of chief supervising attorney under two chief justices. (See here.) He wrote: “Among the many talented and engaged staff attorneys at the California Supreme Court, present and former, Olga stands out. After contributing to the court’s work through the opinions of Chief Justice Gibson and then Justice Mosk, Olga embarked more than three decades ago on a second career, dedicated to the children of Nepal, through her Nepal Youth Foundation. It’s been a privilege to have known Olga in both respects — and to know that in each, this extraordinary woman lives on.”

More about Murray’s remarkable life can be found in her memoir “Olga’s Promise” and in an obituary and memorial page on the Foundation’s website.

[March 29 update: A San Francisco Chronicle obituary by Sam Whiting is here.]

[March 30 update: Additional media coverage of Murray on BBC Radio (starting at 8:38) and the New York Times by Richard Sandomir.]


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