Columnist lives on in words

Linda McCoy-Murray is on a mission to preserve the words of her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Murray. Special to ESPN

She's a pint-sized dynamo with boundless energy and infectious laughter, whose perfect sized-2 physique belies her brute strength -- inner and outer.

"Look, biceps," she says, flexing one day during lunch, before laughing, "Who knew?"

Linda McCoy-Murray buried her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times columnist Jim Murray, 12 years ago today with the heaviest of hearts amid a ceremony usually reserved for heads of state.

"Al Davis was there with Marcus Allen breathing the same air," she recalled. "Mike Tyson was there. People lined the streets of Sunset Boulevard. It was amazing."

And for the last 12 years, McCoy-Murray has been on a mission to prove that Murray, one of the most esteemed and revered sportswriters in history, was wrong.

"I'd give him some compliment about something he did," she said. "And he'd say, 'Oh, Linda, sweetheart, six months after I'm dead, they won't even remember my name.'"

But not only do they remember his name, today, 12 years later -- his name and his legacy are thriving after McCoy-Murray established the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, which raises money to award college scholarships to aspiring journalists. It's something she has become passionate about, travelling all over the country to spread the message.

"It's important to me for them to know as much as they can about Jim," she said. "His writings, naturally, but his integrity, honesty and humility along with a brilliant mind. There is a badge of honor being a Murray Scholar."

McCoy-Murray was a young woman, some 20 years his junior, when she first met Murray in 1969. Working for the Indiana Pacers at the time, she was asked by the team president if she would be willing to drive Murray around the week he was planning on spending in Indianapolis for the 500. Murray's eyes were failing, so he needed some help.

"I thought, this is going to ruin my weekend," she said. "He was old enough to be my father. He looks at me and says, 'Do you have a driver's license?'"

She laughed and what was borne was a wonderful friendship. They'd run into one another off and on at various sporting events, but eventually drifted apart as she moved to New York.

"One day fall of 1985, I asked a mutual what happened to Jim Murray?" she said. "Does he still write that column. Is he still alive? My friend said 'Yes, it's very sad, he lost his son to drugs and alcohol, his wife died, he had open heart surgery and lost an eye.' I said, 'I'm sorry I asked.'"

It was Linda's wit and sarcasm that Murray told her caused him to write her a letter after receiving a birthday card from her. And it was his wit and charm that caused her to pick up the phone and call him. She was living in New York, he in L.A. He said he hated the East Coast, but then remembered that the U.S. Open was at Shinnecock on Long Island that year and figured out a way for the Times editors to send him there. She met him at the tournament and the rest, as she says, was history.

They travelled together to Super Bowls and horse races, golf tournaments and World Series games. She was his driver and, as his eyesight failed, she became his eyes as well.

He died suddenly on Aug. 16, 1998, of a heart attack after he spent the a day at the track in Del Mar.

"We were home and he looked at me and said, 'Lin, something's not right,'" she said, "And he was gone."

Soon after his funeral, McCoy-Murray said she set out to prove that people would remember him, and would continue to read the columns he penned every day for 37 years.

"Thousands of people had breakfast with him every morning," she says.

On the first anniversary of his death, she held a charity golf tournament at Riviera and raised enough money to provide 7 $5,000 scholarships. Through donations and other events, the foundation has provided five scholarships a year ever since. Students are asked to write an essay on a topic selected by a group of judges, who then judge the submissions. ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi was one of the winners when he was a junior at USC, and now serves on the Murray board of directors.

McCoy-Murray travels across the country spreading the word, keeping Murray's name and prose alive. She is close to publishing a book of his more than 200 columns written on female athletes and has designs on future books, compilations of his writings on the Dodgers, Raiders, and of course, horse racing.

Her favorite quotes about Murray have come from The Sporting News' Dave Kindred, who wrote: "Only Jim, of all the great sportswriters, always got it right and always got it funny."

And from Blackie Sherrod, from the Dallas Morning News, who wrote: "Jim was a legend to everybody except himself."

And this from Jim Bacon, publisher of Beverly Hills 213, as they buried Murray at Holy Cross Cemetery 12 years ago today.

"Jim would hate this," he said. "He's got a downhill lie."

McCoy-Murray recounts that story and, again, laughs long and hard. It's what bonded her with Murray and keeps his spirit alive. She sends out one of his columns every Monday, relevant to what's happening in sports today. She calls it, "Mondays with Murray."

"He was an old shoe," she says. "There will never ever be anyone like him. I'm certain of that."