In Memoriam: Bill J. McMurray


by Ronald L. Kathren, CHP

Longtime Hanford site health physicist Bill McMurray passed away on 19 October 2008 from complications following a massive heart attack. Bill was born in Pittsburg, Kansas, on 22 January 1929 and grew up in Fort Scott, near the Missouri border. After graduation from the University of Kansas with a degree in biophysics, Bill moved west to the Hanford site in Washington State where he spent his entire 40-year career working primarily in the areas of emergency preparedness and operational health physics for various site contractors before retiring from Battelle in 1989. His career was varied; he worked in the Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford, managed the operational health physics group in the fuel reprocessing area there, relocated a reactor from Virginia, and was involved in a number of off-site programs dealing with inspections of nuclear facilities. He played an important role in the initial response and follow-up of the well-known Hanford americium exposure accident, publishing the first peer-reviewed description and reconstruction of that event (Health Physics 45:847-853; 1983). Because of his expertise in emergency preparedness, Bill was asked to review safety procedures in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident. This special expertise, coupled with his knowledge of graphite reactors, led to his appointment to the short list of Americans available to support the follow-up to the Chernobyl accident in the event the Russians requested assistance.

Bill was a physical giant of a man with a perpetual smile, well liked and well respected by his colleagues, and known for his colossal bear hugs. He often served as unofficial and informal mentor to junior staff, guiding them and sharing with them the wisdom he gained during his years of experience in operational health physics. He was always available with a sympathetic ear when one was needed and in many little ways helped innumerable others to see beyond their immediate situation and to forge ahead productively. He was professionally active in the Health Physics Society, on both the local and national levels, serving as president of the Columbia Chapter in 1969. A deeply religious man in his personal life, Bill leaves behind his wife of 57 years, Sue, three children, 10 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild and a large legacy of professional colleagues and others whom he personally inspired and advised over the years. All will miss this gentle giant bear of a man with an enormous heart and great concern for others.