Cover photo for Deborah Dale Murdock's Obituary
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Deborah Dale Murdock

September 16, 1943 — March 10, 2024

Kents Store

Deborah Dale Murdock

Deborah died, in the company of family members, on Sunday, March 10th from a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia, from which she had been in remission since September 2023. She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Robert Bryan, a younger brother David, resident in California, and her two children by her first marriage, respectively: her son Angus Murdoch, his wife Kristen Parker and their two children William and Sadie; and her daughter Lydia, Professor of History at Vassar College, and her husband Andrew Evans and their two sons Christopher (Kit) and Henrik.

Deborah was born to Dale and Rosanna French Harrah in Toledo, Ohio, where she spent her childhood. She graduated from Ottawa Hills High School and attended Vassar College. After a few years spent in San Francisco, she and her family came to Virginia in 1968 and soon moved with her then husband and toddler son to a rustic, cold and inexpensive rental at the then empty plantation house at Eastern View in the Green Springs area of Louisa County.  Newborn daughter Lydia joined them there in 1970. As she did throughout her life, Deborah quickly made friends in the community, and helped organize the successful “Save Green Springs” campaign that now protects the area’s numerous historic homes and agricultural landscapes as a designated National Parks Historic District.

Moving to Richmond, she worked for the Historic Landmarks Commission of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Through this work she became familiar with historic homes throughout Central Virginia, including what was in 1976 to become her beloved home, Laughton, in Kents Store, a late 18th and early 19th-century example of a yeoman farmhouse, in sorely dilapidated condition.  Divorced, she finally took sole possession in 1977 where she lived with her children sans electricity, save that sporadically produced by a recalcitrant propane generator. She finally persuaded the State Corporation Commission to oblige the electric company to run the necessary lines, setting a precedent that helped other rural homeowners.  After her marriage to Robert, they, with the active collaboration of her son Angus, embarked on a gentle restoration of the house, which was eventually listed in the National Register of Historic Properties.

Deborah worked in real estate from Charlottesville, specializing in rural older houses, and ultimately as an agent with McLean Faulconer. She also collaboratively penned a series of articles on the bicentennial of the Revolution published as a special supplement by the Daily Progress. She was politically active, serving a term as Chair of the Fluvanna County Democratic Party and acted as a Poll Watcher at numerous elections. She served for many years as Vice-President of the Fluvanna Historical Society and was an authority on David Ross, the leading landowner in Virginia in the 18th century, digitally transcribing his letter book now resident at the Virginia Historical Society library.

Deborah was well travelled, accompanying Robert to scientific gatherings around the globe, and visiting his family in London. She and Robert enjoyed memorable visits to Tuscany, the Veneto and Northern England with their longtime friends Marvin Moss and Judy Mickelson. However, both she and Robert had a special attachment to the Engadin Valley of Switzerland which, until the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, they visited annually: in winter to cross-country ski and in summer to enjoy the mountain air.  Of the changes in summer activity that took place over the years she was to remark, “First we climbed, then we hiked, later we walked and finally we ambled.” She enjoyed one final trip to London and Switzerland in January of this year during her brief remission.

The funeral will be private, but the family will host a gathering at Laughton to commemorate her life and achievements. The date is not yet settled but will be publicized. It was also her wish that in lieu of flowers, etc., donations might be made to one or more of three organizations: Hospice of the Piedmont, who provided dedicated care during her first bout with AML; the Farmington Beagles, at one of whose hunts she and Robert met, and with whom she was a “keen” participant; and the Fluvanna Historical Society in support of its efforts to restore the old County Courthouse in Palmyra.

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