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the dunk… was? is?

i don’t even remember how i met duncan murphy… was it bmug (the berkeley macintosh users group)? the suse linux office that used to be near the grand lake theater in oakland?

we called duncan ‘the dunk’. he was brilliant, tortured, and lovable. he was first and foremost a geek… a very talented programmer who took me under his wing and let me learn by sitting at his side while he worked on websites for joe weider’s fitness online, the california medical association, and others.

the tortured part revealed itself over time. he was a perfectionist, and would quote a job at 100 hours… only to find himself further from the finish line at 400 hours than when he started; he would work all-nighters trying to catch up and deliver. he was overweight and had sleep apnea and other health issues. he had stacks of unopened bills on his desk and kitchen table, having apparently signed up for the ‘we’ve shut off your services… NOW will you pay your bill?!?’ plans with pg&e and the phone company. he didn’t answer the front door because it might be the irs… who he owed an amazingly large amount of money for not paying taxes for 10 years while living in new york (the irs eventually caught up with him, and cut a deal where he would pay an initial payment, followed by monthly payments until his obligation was paid off. his first check bounced, and dunk went back to not answering the door).

throughout, he was generous to a fault, and engendered tremendous loyalty in those of us lucky enough to know and work with him. he was a unique and brilliant guy who should have been working in a high-end think tank somewhere, with administrative assistants taking care of the mundane day-to-day stuff that caused him so much trouble.

he moved back to kentucky to live with his mom, and be closer to his brother, henry; i think his sister, susan, stayed in oakland.

not long after the move, duncan was in a horrible car accident and suffered major head trauma. his brother put up a blog (how duncan’s doing), which we all monitored from afar.

at some point, though, it seemed like dunk had pulled through… but then henry stopped updating the blog and responding to emails… dunkus interruptus. i recently created a facebook account for the sole purpose of sending duncan’s brother and sister emails inquiring about duncan… but got no response.

i owe the man a lot. he set me on my current course… give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime… he taught me how to think like a programmer, and how to feed myself as a webmaster.

is he alive? mostly alive? dead? don’t know… but i miss him, and wish i could check in with him.

One Comment

jkeenan  on May 31st, 2010


Thank you for those kind words about Duncan.

The most recent information I have about Duncan comes from a phone call with his sister Susan on Thanksgiving Day 2009. At least as of that time he was alive and living in a residential treatment program for people with traumatic brain injuries in the Lexington KY area.

As you noted, Duncan moved to Kentucky from California in late 2001. His older brother had been the first to relocate to Kentucky and Duncan had lived there for some short spells in the 1990s. His mother relocated there when she retired from the Civil Service in New York City. His sister, who for many years had lived in Oakland, had just relocated back to New York City at the time of his March 2002 auto accident. I visited him in Lexington less than three weeks before that accident. He had begun looking for employment again and things were looking up.

You probably know something about the accident from reading his brother’s blog. Since a blog is a public posting, I’m not going to post a lot of medical details here. Suffice it to say that Duncan has made slow but tangible progress on both the brain injury and physical injury fronts. His sister relocated to Kentucky; without the help of his family Duncan would have been dead long ago. His mother passed away in December 2006. But his brother fell in love with one of his physical therapists, married her in 2007 and had a child.

I last visited Duncan in June 2009. If I remember correctly, that was my fifth visit since the accident. He’s certainly doing better than he was in 2002.

Duncan was a co-worker at two type shops in New York City beginning in 1982 and was my best friend still living in New York City up through the time he first moved to the Bay Area in 1991. He then was my roommate in Brooklyn for two periods in the early 1990s. He was the first person to show me the Internet — Grateful Dead set lists in 1993 — and the first person to get me in to the Perl programming language, which ultimately became my career.

So, like you, Duncan set me on my current course in life. And for that I will be eternally grateful.

By private email I will let you know how you might try to reach Duncan.

Thank you very much.
Jim Keenan

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