Tammy Murphy’s “All In”

New Jersey’s Activist First Lady is also a Big Fan of Drumthwacket

By Wendy Greenberg | Photography by Tom Grimes

Tammy Snyder Murphy became aware of climate action some 24 years ago while living in Frankfurt, Germany, where her husband worked in financial services. “I was stunned,” she recalls. “People took cloth bags to grocery stores. They recycled trash, just as a matter of course. It opened my eyes.”

The personal commitment to sustainability was a lesson that is still with her today, as first lady of New Jersey. In fact, Tammy Murphy is a passionate advocate for several key issues,
the environment among them.

ince her husband, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, took office just over a year ago, Murphy has channeled a “can do” attitude, which she attributes to her parents, to support the agenda of her husband and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. She sees herself as a “convener,” and says, “There are four people in this office,” referring to three staff members and herself. “Tell us what you need. We’ll help get it done.”

Nevertheless, there are some things that are close to her heart. In addition to the environment, Murphy has been front and center on the issues of maternal and infant mortality. She is present at events and visible on social media (check Twitter: @FirstLadyNJ). In her office down the hall from Gov. Murphy’s — now at 225 West State Street, while the statehouse is undergoing renovation — she spoke about where she can make a difference, including her passion for making Drumthwacket, the official governor’s residence, a symbol of a state that welcomes diversity.

The modest office features art she selected from the New Jersey State Museum, such as the colorful Skyway Breakdown (1975) by Peter Homitzky from Hoboken, and the pastoral Farmer’s Field by George A. Herquet Jr., of Penn’s Neck. A model of the state bird, the American goldfinch, sits on some books, and a sofa pillow with a small map of New Jersey reads “Home.” The office has been her working home for the past year, a base from which to cover the state.

Environmental Activism

Murphy delivered the keynote address last fall at a Princeton University Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment conference, “Accelerating Climate Action in the United States: What Are We Doing and What More Can Be Done?” She said she and Gov. Murphy want New Jersey to become a “magnet for innovations and solutions” in climate action. She also spoke at the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards in Trenton last December.

All environmental issues are on the table. “I’m interested in it all,” she says. “I’m tangentially involved in all that is going on in environmental issues, at the intersection of how we fix clean energy on one hand, and involve social justice on the other. To lay out the table for future generations, you can’t just attack one piece.” She has considered issues from solar energy to horseshoe crabs as endangered species.

New Jersey, she points out, had pulled out from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but has now started the process of rejoining. The state has also joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, opposes offshore drilling, and has a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

“It’s not true that being green means more expense, as some have said,” Murphy points out. Economic benefits go hand in hand with environmental protection efforts, she says. For every $1 invested in offshore wind, New Jersey will realize $1.83. Moving to an offshore wind economy will create more than 4,300 jobs and a total economic impact of $700 million, she notes.

Murphy has some credentials here. For more than a decade she has been secretary and a charter member of the Climate Reality Action Fund founded by former Vice President Al Gore. The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit organization involved in education and advocacy related to climate change, was established in July 2011 after the joining of two environmental groups, The Alliance for Climate Protection and The Climate Project, both of which were founded in 2006 by Gore.

In the early 2000s, when the Murphys were holding dinners in their Middletown home, they connected with Al Gore. Gore soon invited Tammy Murphy to join the Climate Reality Project. She has spoken on the organization’s behalf and is excited about its progress. “We are training the next generation of leaders who can change the world,” she says. “We trained [in] more than 150 countries so far.”

Family influence

Her interest in community service probably goes back to her paternal grandmother, who was “always involved in something in Virginia.” Her British mother, who she describes as a “force to be reckoned with,” told her, “never let anyone tell you no.”
“I never felt impeded,” Murphy says.

She is the youngest of five siblings. Her father, Edward B. Snyder, died this past fall, and the funeral program lists some 75 diverse organizations he supported in some way, from the American Red Cross to the Boy Scout of America, from the March of Dimes to several health centers, along with museums and cultural organizations.

Growing up in Virginia Beach, Va., (where she then aligned with the Republican party), Murphy thought she might have a career in media after she graduated in 1987 from the University of Virginia with a degree in English and communications. But she became interested in finance, and was hired by Goldman Sachs. She later worked in Europe for Investcorp. She became friends with Phil Murphy, but it wasn’t until seven years later that they went on a date and became engaged. They are the parents of four children, ages 21, 19, 17, and 15, and she emphasizes that she is “a mom first” and tries to communicate with her family throughout the day.

Poverty and Health Issues

Because of her interest in family, Murphy is also highly involved in the issues of maternal and infant health and mortality. She noted that New Jersey is 45th out of 50 states in mortality. “It is particularly bad if you are a black child,” she says. “Your chances of dying in the first year of life are three times greater, and for black women, the maternal mortality rate is more than four times higher than it is for white women.”

Murphy has crisscrossed the state meeting with coalitions, doulas, foundation members, and other stakeholders. “I’ve learned that the problem is not just prenatal care but poverty, a lack of access to transportation and medical care, opiate use, and much more.” It’s a problem that is so large and complicated, she said, that originally the health department was involved and “now there are 13 cabinet members involved in this issue.”

Murphy proudly reports that the New Jersey Black Maternal & Infant Health Leadership Summit last October at Drumthwacket resulted in 120 guests communicating with each other and brainstorming short- and long-term solutions. “It was pretty effective,” she said.

But she notes that “one of the biggest challenges is connecting people with resources.” Family festivals, such as one held in Trenton in December, are an effort to bring residents and resources together. The first was in Paterson and there were 60 providers and some 300 community residents. More than 90 providers were on hand in Trenton, and some 500 people attended. The next one will be held in March in Camden.

Drumming up Drumthwacket

As an activist first lady, Tammy Murphy explains that she and Gov. Murphy “have always been a team. We have always brought our combined perspectives. There are so many areas that can use a little bit of help. I’m all in.”

Not one to shy away from involvement, Murphy has served on the boards of several schools and organizations, including the board of visitors at the University of Virginia, the advisory board of Tisch College at Tufts University, Phillips Academy Andover (Mass.), the Monmouth Medical Center Foundation, Rumson Country Day School, the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, and the Count Basie Center for the Arts.

As president of the Drumthwacket Foundation, another major initiative is the effective use of the official governor’s residence in Princeton as a symbol of a New Jersey that people want to invest in, and a source of pride for state residents.

As such, she sees herself as a caretaker for the “incredible history” and for inspiring state citizens to appreciate the culture and history of the residence. Look for rotating exhibits by New Jersey artists, and for only New Jersey wines served at functions. Last year events hosted by the Murphys at Drumthwacket included a Black History Month reception, a Women’s History Month reception, a Passover Seder, an Asian American Pacific Islander Month reception, a Pride event, the recent the Marine Corps anniversary, and menorah lighting. Drumthwacket saw its first Diwali celebration, a Hindu festival, this past fall.

Murphy says she was taught that “everyone is worthwhile. Someone always brings something to the table. Everyone deserves to have his voice heard.” Between multitasking and a whirlwind schedule, Tammy Murphy intends to keep listening.