Former DeSoto County Administrator Ken Murphree died after a brief illness at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto on Monday. He was 71.
Murphree presided over early major growth in Mississippi's fastest-growing county before returning to his native Tunica in later years.
"He was just a wonderful guy," recalled longtime friend and fellow colleague William "Bill" Austin. "He was the kind of guy that I would be proud to say that he was my brother. He was the kind of guy that you would be proud to have served in the foxhole with."
Austin said he and Murphree began their friendship and long association when Austin was attorney for the DeSoto County Planning Commission.
"He went on to become the (DeSoto County) Administrator and we worked together when I was board attorney," Austin said. "He was very unassuming. There was nothing pretentious about him whatsoever. He wanted to be just one of the regular guys. He never bragged on anything he accomplished. Nobody would have ever had a clue that he had a master's degree in urban planning."
Former DeSoto County Chancery Clerk, W.E. "Sluggo" Davis remembered Murphree as a decent, honorable man with great integrity.
"He was all about DeSoto County," Davis said. "He was about doing what was right. He didn't mind taking the heat for someone else. He was loyal to his employees. Ken was very talented in the way in which he made everyone feel like they had won. He gave me a piece of advice early in my career. He said good business and good government don't always go hand in glove like they should. He was a mighty good man."
Murphree's life story was a saga of hard work and a steady climb up the ladder of success.
He started working at his Dad's grocery store at a very young age. Murphree attended Tunica County High School, making friends that would remain his best friends until the end of his life. He then graduated from the University of Mississippi, where he was a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity.
When called upon to serve his country, Murphree dutifully did so, serving two years' active duty with a tour in Vietnam. After his service, he returned to Tunica where he worked with friends and reconnected with one of his younger sister's friends, Connie Monteith.
Ken and Connie fell in love and married soon after, living in Oxford while Ken finished his Master's in Urban and Regional Planning degree.
After graduating from Ole Miss, Kenny and Connie moved to Hernando. There, Murphree worked diligently and eventually was selected as its county administrator for the next 22 years.
During his tenure as county administrator, DeSoto County experienced its greatest growth. In 1996, Murphree became the county administrator for Tunica County.
He was president of the I-69 Coalition and was on the Board of Directors of First Security Bank. He was a former president of the Delta Council and past president of Northwest Mississippi Community College Foundation Board of Trustees.
Kenny retired from Tunica County in 2012, and he has spent his time in his beloved Tunica and his home in Hardy, Ark.
Visitation will be Thursday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Tunica Presbyterian Church, 1251 Woolfolk Avenue in Tunica with services following at 2:30 p.m. Burial will be at Oakwood Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be sent to Diamond Disciples Ministry, P.O. Box 205, Tunica, MS 38676.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.