Past Times

Past Times: Crossing guard was a friend indeed

Safety Patrol helps children cross safely as they leave Murphey School in 1946.
Safety Patrol helps children cross safely as they leave Murphey School in 1946. N&O Photo

In small town Raleigh, when children walked to school, the school crossing guard was a familiar and friendly face. In 1963, writer Libby Beard introduced readers to one of the city’s “patrolwomen.”

Confidante and vicarious mother to hundreds every year for the past 12 years, Mrs. R.A. Murray … is considered a close, personal friend by more persons in Raleigh, probably, than any other individual.

School patrolwoman at Myrtle Underwood School in the Hayes Barton area since 1951, “Miz” Murray as the children call her, has helped across the street, lent bus money to and tied shoes for hundreds every year.

Paid for “crossing” the children on busy Glenwood Avenue between the hours of eight and nine a.m. and two and 3:30 p.m., Mrs. Murray’s interest in and attention to her young charges extends far beyond traffic safety.

Virtually every child is known to her by name. Not only does she know the children, but she knows their parents or grandparents, their family automobiles, who is supposed to ride the bus, which bus, and the children who walk home.

Any variation from a child’s “going home” routine brings quick questions from Mrs. Murray. She checks to be sure she knows the person driving before a child gets into any automobile but his own, and she’s never “lost” a child.

Mrs. Murray’s constant chant to the children is: “Don’t step off the curb until I say ‘all right’,” and they quickly learn she means business. “I’m never certain,” explains the alert patrolwoman, “that a motorist is going to stop. I’ve learned types of drivers,” she continued, “just as I’ve learned types of children; and I pick my times to step out; but I’m never sure.”

A few drivers over the years have failed to stop, Mrs. Murray said. She’s had to leap for safety on some occasions and has been fortunate not to be hit anywhere except her hand. Not a child has been hit or injured by an automobile in her 12-year career.

Although employed by and under supervision of the city’s traffic department, patrolwomen have no authority to arrest motorists violating school zone laws. Their recourse is to take license numbers and turn them over to the traffic department. Police are then on the alert for those particular cars.

One of the most interesting times to watch Mrs. Murray in action is the half-hour between 2:10 in the afternoon and the time a city bus arrives that some 20 or 25 of the children ride home daily.

Many of these youngsters bring an extra penny or two to spend on candy at a nearby theater. Before Mrs. Murray lets them walk the few steps for their “goodies,” she makes each one put his bus money in her glove so there’ll be no over-spending. If a child loses his money, however, she always has an extra dime.

On pretty days, she and the children may get together to teach one of the little ones whose fingers are still unsure to tie a shoe or button a coat. On bad days Mrs. Murray has the children stay inside the school until she sights their bus.

Not the least of her extracurricular duties is to function as a message service. Many a mother will stop to ask Mrs. Murray to remind a child to get a haircut, go to music or meet her downtown.

This year she’s been involved in loading and unloading the 10 school buses which ferry children from outlying areas to and from Myrtle Underwood.

There’s great consternation in the ranks on the infrequent days Mrs. Murray is absent. As one mother put it: “My child is much less concerned over a bad test grade than he is over where Mrs. Murray is when she’s not at school.”

Many children who’ve grown up and gone to college come back to speak to Mrs. Murray when they’re at home. Next year will be her first time with the “second generation,” however. Recently a father brought his youngster to meet Mrs. Murray.

“I used to get so mad with you,” he said, “when you wouldn’t let me step off the curb. But, Johnny, here, is going to be in first grade next year, and I want you to do him just like you did me.”

Mrs. Murray took up her duties as patrolwoman when her own two sons – Ayden, now 20, and Fred, now 18 – were in school, and she has been on the job longer than any other patrolwoman in the city. Asked about retirement plans she said: “I guess as long as the children want me and come back to see me like they do, I’ll be on the job.” The N&O Feb. 2, 1963

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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