Mary Murphy is the immensely popular, gregarious and dedicated crossing guard stationed at the intersection of Juniper Valley Road and 80th Street by Saint Margaret’s. Her unbridled energy, enthusiasm and good-naturedness, along with her ability to be constantly aware of the traffic conditions, has made Mary the effective and respected crossing guard she is. She is known for her dry sense of humor, and she is a good listener, especially to those who would not hesitate to talk to her about what ails them.
Mary’s popularity stems from the fact that she gives the impression that everyone is important and deserves an equal amount of attention. Mornings or afternoons in the snow, rain or fog, freezing cold or sweltering heat, Mary has been a welcome presence to anyone waiting to be escorted across the street. She loves her job and the people she comes in contact with know she loves her job. And that is what makes her so good. Because to Mary, being a crossing guard is not just an occupation – it’s a calling.
This interview was conducted at Saint Margaret’s Catholic School.
Mary was born in County Galway, Ireland. She was one of ten children. She lived and worked on a farm growing-up and moved to the United States in 1977. She currently lives in Maspeth with her husband who she has been married to for 27 years. She has two sons. One is a policeman and the other is pursuing a PhD in Mathematics. She also has a cat that she loves dearly.
How long have you been a crossing guard?
How many hours a day do you work?
Five. Two and a half hours in the morning and two and a half in the afternoon. Seven to nine-thirty in the morning and one to three-thirty in the afternoon.
What does it take to be a good crossing guard?
You have to be on the ball. You have to have six eyes all around your head. You cannot take your eyes off the road and traffic for one second, because the children are coming across the street all the time. You have to be aware of everybody. You have to be very aware and alert at all times.
Why did you become a crossing guard?
Well, I used to work in catering place, and then a construction office, and when my kids finished high school my husband said one day “you know what you would like? You would like the power—the power to stop traffic. So, why not become a crossing guard?” And I said “okay,” so I applied for the job and sure enough, I got it. And after one week working as a crossing guard, I was flying! I loved it. And I have loved it ever since.
When did you start?
April 17th, 2006.
What is it about being a crossing guard you find most challenging?
Dealing with the traffic! There are no speed limit signs on Juniper Valley Road or 80th Street. There was one with a 20 mile speed limit on 80th Street, but one day a guy came along to change it, but took it down and never replaced it.
In the March issue of the Juniper Berry, Dr. Franco
(principal of Saint Margaret’s) said when interviewed that “he would like to see more done to improve traffic safety outside the school.” Has anything changed?
No. It’s still dangerous – very, very dangerous without a speed limit sign on 80th Street by the school. Now all the public schools have 20 MPH speed limit signs with a double fine penalty warning if you’re caught speeding by the school you will have to pay double. Meanwhile, there are no speed limit signs by parochial schools – absolutely none. So, when I’m crossing the kids at Juniper Valley Road and 80th Street and the light is green and the cars are doing 40 or 50 miles an hour trying to beat the coming traffic, especially at dismissal time when the cars are flying, it is really dangerous!. One car even grazed my coat one day it was going so fast. I have also seen someone drive so fast down Juniper Valley Road that he went into the cemetery.
So they have to put speed limit signs at the 80th Street crossing and the 79th Place crossing as well or else somebody is going to get killed. And they should also consider putting stop signs or speed bumps or a flashing red light at Juniper Valley Road and 79th Place, and they should do it right away or someone is going to get killed.
I have spoken to (Council Member) Elizabeth Crowley and the Department of Transportation and still nothing has happened. She’s useless.
What part of your job do you find the most rewarding?
Helping the kids cross the street without anybody getting hurt by the cars. Also, helping the seniors and the people getting off the bus. I guess you could say I just like helping people. I do my best, and I also enjoy talking to people, almost like a psychologist, to get to know them. I love my job. I really do. I love to come to work in the morning. And when I’m off, I’m saying to myself, “I can’t wait to go back and see those kids!” Especially in the summer.
What is it that would make your job easier?
Once again, stop signs, speed bumps or a flashing red light by 79th Place and a speed limit sign on 80th Street, just like they have at public schools. Or, maybe a no turning sign at Juniper Valley Road from 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning might help.
Have you had any dangerous moments with oncoming cars while helping someone cross the street?
Yes, several. One time I was in the middle of the street holding up traffic and this one driver, who was supposed to stop, drove right by me, grazing my coat and almost hit me. I mean how could he not see me? Never saw him again, though.
What do you do with drivers who are repeat offenders?
I try and write down their license plate, but it’s hard since they’re going so fast.
Have you ever had to call for police assistance?
No. The only time I ever called the police was when the traffic light was out. And I called 311 all day, but they never came. I had to stop the traffic myself.
What is it that the people would be surprised to know about crossing guards?
How many times we have to “turn the other cheek,” and be nice when people say unpleasant things to us, especially when they’re in a hurry. But it really isn’t often.
What is the funniest thing that you’ve seen while on the job?
This has nothing to do with the kids now, but the funniest thing I’ve ever seen was when a friend of mine was coming down the street one day and I said, “What is that you have on your head?” And she said, “What do you mean?” She was trying on sunglasses and she forgot they were on her head with the price tag still on, and she must have walked out of the store with them still on her head without her knowing it! Oh, we laughed and laughed, and I said “you better go back and pay for those!”
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I love to draw and paint. And I play the accordion, but not too good, but I still enjoy it.
What do you enjoy watching on TV?
Holmes on Homes and the other shows on HGTV. I like looking at the lavish homes. And I like watching Jeopardy, as well.
And what movies do you like?
The Clint Eastwood movies, especially the Dirty Harrys. My husband looks like Clint Eastwood.
If you were shipwrecked on a deserted island, what books would you want to have with you?
The Bible and an Atlas or any geography book. I love geography and maps.
What is the one person in the world living or dead you would want to meet?
What matters most to you in life?
What would be surprised to know about Mary Murphy?
I guess that I play the accordion. And that I can do the Irish Jig, and Hornpipe, and all those Irish dances. I certainly can. As a matter of fact, I sometimes do a little Irish Jig on the corner by the school. And sometimes people clap.
Thank you, Mary.