Building bridges in nature: A profile in giving with John Murray

John at the summit of Estes Cone in the Rocky Mountains in 2014.

At the age of three, “little Johnny” Murray accompanied his mother while riding his tricycle to the bottom of Oakland Street in his neighborhood. At a cross-street with a stop sign, he looked to the left and then the right, spotting a hill that he couldn’t see over. Johnny resolutely informed his mother, “Someday I’m going to go up that street all by myself.”

John relaxing with his wife Judy Terlizzi at the home they designed and built in the desert environment of the Tucson Mountains.

Since that first pronouncement as a toddler, John has continued to seek out hills, to meet those challenges and to see what’s on the other side. As he puts it, “You should be out engaging with whatever’s out there, challenging it. My search has been to experience something that was just over the hill.”

John’s embrace of change has led him on adventures across the continental United States —from Arizona to New York — and internationally, particularly in the Middle East. Each locale has brought him a deeper and ever-evolving appreciation of nature.

As a young boy, John and his family would spend summers in the Rocky Mountains. It was there near Estes Park that he discovered a love for hiking — he’s even hiked Longs’ Peak three times. Here, John prospered in nature defined by mountains, aspen trees and pine forests.

As an adult, his work in conflict resolution took him to Egypt where he lived for five years. John loved being outside, beyond the city center of Cairo. One memorable day, John and wife Judy piled into a car heading west toward Lake Fayoum — no road or path, just driving across the desert. They happened upon a town ruin dating from 200 BC to 200 AD. Exploring the ruins of a granary and wharf, they noted how the receding of the lake, now 2 miles to the south – a change in nature – doomed this once thriving city.

This reflection stayed with John.

“Nature is not just what I recognize sitting in Brooklyn Heights [John’s current home] – trees, shrubs, azaleas, parks. Nature is also cactus, deserts, rivers, mountains, oceans. Nature encourages reflection. Nature is change. Even the seasons show us how nature creates and embraces change.”

Always interested in engaging in something that is challenging, John’s professional career has taken him from teaching both law and conflict resolution at universities in the U.S. and abroad; to co-founding and leading the Conflict Clinic, Inc.; and to consulting as a negotiation and conflict management specialist.

Three generations of the Murray family spending time together at Estes Cone.

Today, John’s primary focus is bringing people together to appreciate, to use and to sustain our natural environment with particular emphasis on water and natural resources. As John puts it, he’s driven by the question, “How can people get along, cooperate in building and maintaining a natural environment that will sustain people over the centuries? I’m not a water or pollution expert, but I do know some of the ways that people can work together to achieve mutual goals.”

Building bridges between people and nature to their mutual benefit is something John also sees in Nature Sacred’s work and impact.

“I’ve been a long-time and current supporter of the work that Nature Sacred is doing. From its founding 25 years ago, there has been this sense that you can’t just do something for someone else and provide it to them, expecting that they will enjoy and nurture it.

“What Nature Sacred does and does so effectively is to offer an opportunity to a community, helping them bring the beauty and energy of a natural space to serve as a healthy resource for their residents.”

John with close friend and colleague Dave Phillips hiking the Fish River Canyon in Namibia in 2010.