Days after former Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette retired from a nine-year stint at the end of June, his successor’s debut fell on the maritime museum’s busiest time of the year. It was only fitting that the new executive director’s inauguration would be welcomed with tremendous fanfare − literal fireworks − at their Fourth of July extravaganza atop the USS Yorktown.
With less than two months as the head of operations, executive director Larry Murray finally has time to catch his breath after a handover of high demands and even higher expectations. He’s now completely moved in to his newly furnished office that’s adorned with military memorabilia and college football collectibles.
For Murray, these tangible pastimes are reminders of his journey to this point. His humble demeanor offsets his resume and track record that boasts for itself.
Born in Texas but raised in Minnesota, one of five siblings, Murray hails from a hardworking, blue collar family. His upbringing was the type where your father looked at you and said “hey son, anything past high school you’re on your own.”
He admitted he always wanted to be a soldier, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves at 17 years old. However, he was also recruited to play inside-linebacker at Virginia Military Institute where he earned his undergraduate degree.
Afterward, Murray received a master’s of science from Central Michigan University. Academic and athletic accolades aside, his next chapter of adulthood would be the most physically and mentally exacerbating of all − nearly three decades of service to his country.
During his 27-year career in the Army, he ran day-to-day operations in Afghanistan from 2005-07. For 16-18 months, Murray’s role as J3 chief of operations was to oversee allies and the Afghan National Army resolve turmoil on a daily basis. He spent the next six months along the hostile and contentious Pakistan border.
Murray noted that next month marks the 25-year anniversary since his involvement in Operation Uphold Democracy. Stationed on the USS Eisenhower in September 1994, he participated in an air assault into Haiti with the 10th Mountain Division. The operation successfully removed the Haitian military regime and reinstated the elected president.
“I’m blessed to serve and I’d do it again,” Murray said. “Lost a lot of good men and a lot of wounded soldiers at the time, but I’d rather be fighting terrorism in that part of the world versus U.S. soil.”
He stowed away his Army uniform Memorial Day Weekend of 2012 and suited up to work a civilian job the following Tuesday. He was employed as a legislative liaison for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV).
“I think I had seersucker and a bow tie and showed up in the General Assembly at the Statehouse,” he joked.
For Murray, the transition from the military to the civilian sector was seamless because he had experience running the Army’s leadership school at Fort Jackson. He would later apply these small-business owner skills to climb the ranks at SCDMV.
Murray served as chief and deputy director of SCDMV for seven years. While trying to find creative ways to generate revenue for the non-appropriated agency, the one legislative feat he’s most proud is passing the convenience fee on credit cards for citizens’ property taxes or renewal fees. Now, state agencies aren’t forced to absorb property owners’ fees at their agency’s expense.
To date, Murray has acquired 34 years of domestic and international experience in operations, legislative affairs, strategic planning and training. Patriots Point Development Authority handpicked him from a pool of more than 250 applicants nationwide using a third party to vet candidates, according to Patriots Point public information officer Chris Hauff.
“It came down to my history with the state, proven track record of my relationships with the General Assembly and understanding the state process,” Murray said. “It came down to the board making a decision of what leadership style and personality would be the best fit for Patriots Point going forward.”
Now, behind the helm of Patriots Point, Murray said what he loves most about his new role is learning about the rich naval history. He believes through past knowledge and cooperation with his staff, he can preserve and honor the lasting legacy of the 44-year-old maritime museum.
“Patriots Point is probably the best museum on the East Coast,” Murray said.
Critics refer to the USS Yorktown as the Arlington National Cemetery for aviation veterans.
Murray rattled off some appealing aspects of Patriots Point that drew his interest, like its educational and volunteer programs for veterans. One of the most alluring attractions that has made the biggest impact on his initial impressions is the staff.
“It is a family,” Murray said. “I love learning the staff’s names, roles and how long they’ve been here. I enjoy the histories of the volunteers, many have family ties.”
Although he’s still very much in the getting-to-know-stuff phase, Hauff commended Murray’s leadership style, most notably his open-door policy. Murray’s philosophy is that all staff members, regardless of job are expected to uphold the same level of respect for each other and their surroundings.
Hauff recalled that during Murray’s first month on the job he was pitching in to do golf cart duties. This is atypical behavior of an executive director, but it’s setting a new standard and faculty are buying in.
“Everybody who works and volunteers here is an ambassador for the state of South Carolina,” Murray said.
One Saturday morning, Murray played undercover boss and went around asking employees to define their job description. One employee nervously answered Murray’s questions. Later, the employee sent a mass email company-wide titled ‘Larry,’ with a bullet list of job responsibilities to prepare staff members. Murray chuckled when he found out about the correspondence.
“This is not a normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Murray said. He’s still in disbelief that Patriots Point is only closed one day a year, Christmas.
Murray is quite giddy about the future of Patriots Point. With the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center and Patriots Annex slated on the agenda, Murray anticipates the coming attractions will evolve Patriots Point from a military landmark to a sought-after weekend destination.
Murray’s vision is not only to build off the educational programs that Burdette expanded, but to provide more reform opportunities for veterans. He’s looking to start a Vet for Success program, in conjunction with the Ralph Johnson VA Hospital, where the VA pays a stipend for veterans to learn a trade or receive employment at Patriots Point.
Every weekend for the next month, Patriots Point is pairing with Ralph Johnson V.A. Hospital to provide cognitive behavioral therapy for homeless veterans to reintegrate into society. Also, Patriots Point plans to roll out kiosks with fliers for suicide awareness to help veterans cope with PTSD.
Murray created an acronym called SEWV. His goal is to improve Patriots Point social media, educationional programs, word of mouth and veterans.
“I want Patriots Point to become a FOMO (fear of missing out) place,” Murray said.
He admitted that it’s not all pros without cons. He’s well aware of the financial struggles between the USS Laffey and the inevitable reefing of the USS Clamagore. He knows that future fundraising will be difficult using unappropriated sources.
“Do we have some weaknesses? Yes. Do we have some debt? Yes. Can we overcome that? Yes,” he added.
Murray outwardly admits he’s not a pessimist, in fact, he prides himself on being an extreme optimist.
“Patriots Point is at a key moment where a lot is going on,” Murray continued. “Who would not be excited and want to be charged with that responsibility of taking Patriots Point to the next level?”