Colleen Lynette Murphy, a longtime resident of Safford, quiety passed into eternal life Thursday morning, June 23, 2022, at her residence, with her loving husband, Chris, at her bedside. Colleen was 50.
Colleen Lynette (Isbell) Murphy was born March 28, 1972 in Fresno, CA to Daniel and Rosemary Isbell. Over the next three years, the little family stayed in California, eventually moving to Ridgecrest, where Colleen’s sister Bekki was born. Not long after little Bekki joined the family, the Isbell’s moved to Montrose, CO. Colleen enjoyed her childhood growing up in Western Colorado, and as time went on, two brothers, Jared and Derek joined the clan. Finally, when Colleen was twelve years old, little Amanda was born, and their family was complete.
Colleen often talked about growing up in some of the most beautiful country in the world, and always reminisced about her childhood–playing in the snow, camping with family and friends, watching her dad’s tinkering projects become growing hobbies, her and Bekki dressing up Amanda like a little doll, and tolerating her brothers’ antics. Colleen absolutely loved her family, and a majority of her adult life was spent growing those relationships further, always laughing at her now grown brothers with their growing families, talking to Amanda about world travels, and visiting with Bekki and her family as they always lived close by.
During Colleen’s senior year of high school, her father decided to resign from his job at Colorado Electric in Montrose, so the family packed up and moved to Sierra Vista, AZ where her dad had found new employment in nearby Benson at the electric co-op. Colleen however did not immediately move to Arizona with her family, but instead stayed behind in Montrose to finish high school–living with close family friends the Auxiers. This time away from her family was difficult for Colleen, but she also always said that she learned to be more independent during that time, which prepared her for adult life.
After graduating from high school, Colleen had plans to attend Rick’s College in Rexburg, ID. While preparing for that next adventure in life, her mother and a friend told Colleen about a little college in Thatcher Arizona called Eastern Arizona College. Somehow, Colleen got her hands on a brochure for EAC, and upon looking through the brochure, which had colored pictures, noticed that the grass was the perfect shade of green. Her limited experience of southern Arizona had taught her that everything “looked dead,” and so these pictures of beautiful grass at a college in the middle of the desert made her think of an oasis. Add in the fact that she would be close to her family if she attended school there, and Colleen’s new adventure at EAC began in August of 1990.
Colleen majored in music at EAC, performing in choir, and eventually being awarded Music Major of the Year. She was able to meet and associate with many lifelong friends at EAC over the next few years, including her best friend forever, Kristi Solomon. They were the crazy girls who had Saturday Night Live parties almost every week, thought looking like every other girl on campus was lame so they dressed in black, and decided listening to 80s techno-pop music in their shared bedroom at the house they lived in on the corner of Highway 70 and Stadium Avenue called “The Passion Palace” was just the coolest thing ever.
One of those new friends Colleen met during her second year at EAC was her future husband, Chris Murphy. For some reason, in the beginning they did not get along. They talked and laughed about it over the years–Colleen was loud and crazy and was always talking to everyone she met. Chris was the too cool drummer, sitting in the back seat of the bus with his headphones on during EAC music department tours across eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Finally in the spring of 1992, during EAC’s musical theater production of Peter Pan, Colleen stopped by the drumset in the orchestra pit in the fine art’s auditorium, where Chris was preparing to play with the orchestra for the show. She asked him, as she snagged a black bag that he had placed neatly on the top of the snare drum, “What’s this for?” Almost begrudgingly, Chris explained to this crazy girl that it was his stick bag, and it contained all of the sticks and mallets he used for every show. Obviously, she was impressed.
The two quickly became friends after this encounter, and they began dating in the fall semester of 1992. Late that fall, Chris decided he wanted to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Colleen also had plans to serve a mission, and lucky for Chris, their two missions would coincide. Chris left on his mission to Alaska in January of 1993 and Colleen left on her mission to Scotland in May. She returned eighteen months later in November of 1994 and Chris returned in late December. After they reconnected via a late-night phone call from Chris around New Year’s Eve, they started talking on a regular basis until they could meet in person in mid-January 1995. At first, things seemed like they may not work out, as they both had their own plans about the future. Eventually though, they started dating again, and by late March of 1995, they were only separated by the fact that they had to travel between Safford and Sierra Vista to see each other.
In the summer of 1995, Colleen moved to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah. It didn’t take long for Chris to follow, and by late July, he too was a resident of that city. By this point they were head over heels for each other, and they became engaged in August.
On December 27, 1995, they were sealed for time and all eternity in the Mesa Arizona Temple, and their lives as true companions began.
In June of 1996 they moved back to Safford, where Chris worked for the family business, and on October 9, 1996, they welcomed their only child Benjamin Isaac to their little family. The young couple loved that boy more than anything, and over the years they often talked about how three is a magic number, as the School House Rock song says.
When Ben was two years old, Colleen faced a significant challenge in her personal life, as her father Dan passed away suddenly. Like everyone in the family, she was in shock for a time. She loved her dad, as did all her siblings, and she knew that his departure at the age of 50, would be a challenge for her mom Rosemary. Over the next few years, Colleen and Chris would travel down to Sierra Vista often, spending time with Rosemary, and developing their relationship. The Isbell family would often all gather together in Sierra Vista, and there was always lots of laughter as they remembered the good times, and of course played jokes on each other.
It seemed like laughter and joking was always a part of the family, and that translated to the smaller Murphy trio as well. The little family was always together as the years went on. They went on many trips and adventures together, watched Benjamin grow from a bright little boy to a true leader of his peers. Colleen loved talking about Ben, talking to Ben, hanging out with Ben, hugging Ben, kissing his cheek, and just watching him grow from a little boy to a strong young man, and eventually to becoming a father himself. While Ben served his own mission as a Spanish speaking missionary in Kansas, Colleen had a very difficult time coping. She shed many tears, missing his warmth and kindness. When he returned home, it was all she could do to not stop hugging and squeezing him, and telling him how much she loved him. The truth is, he loved the fact that his mom loved him that much, and so he tolerated it, with a smile of course.
When Ben was young, Colleen decided she wanted to go back to school. She attended the University of Arizona, earning a Bachelor's Degree in English and graduating Summa Cum Laude, and then attended Northern Arizona University, earning a Master’s Degree in English. She had been working in the writing center at EAC–starting in 2004–and worked all the way through her tenure as a student at those universities. After obtaining her Master’s Degree, she began teaching as an adjunct English instructor at EAC, which she did from 2010 until December 2020. She loved teaching, especially when it involved helping students at the tutoring level. During her tenure working for EAC, she taught on the main campus, and at Pima and Safford High Schools. There are many students over the years who would see Mrs. Murphy at the grocery store or on the street who would stop her and tell her how much they loved her class. She was always skeptical about this, but the truth is, they really meant it, and it made her feel good.
Colleen was also an avid researcher and genealogist. She spent countless hours poring over census records, old church records, and other old documents trying to find ancestors lost in time. She was absolutely passionate about this–it wasn’t a hobby it was an obsession, for which she had built a significant skill set. Over the years there were many people who would ask Colleen for help in their research, which she was ecstatic to do. She worked at the Family History Center in Safford for several years, and built many relationships there. Colleen and her mother-in-law Jean Smith traveled to Salt Lake City many times together and would spend a week at a time in the Family History Center there, again obsessing over their research. Colleen really felt that on the other side of the veil there are countless souls who appreciate those who put forth the effort to know about them. Colleen’s lifelong passion for family history was a testament to her desire to do something noble and meaningful with the time she had been given.
In March of 2019, Ben married his sweetheart Mckenna (Allen). Colleen absolutely adored Mckenna and talked about how much it meant to her that Ben had married someone so perfect for him. Colleen finally had a daughter, and she was so excited for the future of their little family.
The family tradition of traveling together and having new and exciting adventures continued with the addition of Mckenna, and then, the big news hit in the summer of 2020–Colleen was going to be a grandma! She beamed with excitement at the prospect of holding and absolutely spoiling her grandbaby. After the news that this new little Murphy was to be a boy, she continued to beam, and started preparing for his arrival, which was to be in February of 2021.
In the fall of 2020, Colleen began experiencing significant pain and discomfort in her abdomen. Her doctors tested her for several things, and the attempted remedies related to ulcers and the like failed. In December of 2020, Colleen went in for a CT scan. The day after that scan, her doctor delivered the devastating news of colon cancer which had metastasized, and that Colleen would need to immediately go in for surgery. Two days later, on December 18th Colleen entered Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center to prepare for surgery, which was slated for December 21st. That nearly eight-hour surgery revealed the full extent of her condition to doctors, and they were able to remove a significant amount of the tumors, though it was impossible to completely rid her body of the disease. A few weeks after surgery, Colleen began preparing for chemotherapy treatments, which would be a significant part of her, and her family's lives over the next year and a half.
As planned, on February 15th of 2021, little Hyrum Cole Murphy was born, and as expected, Colleen was absolutely in love! Ben and Mckenna told Colleen that his middle name of Cole was a tribute to her. When Ben’s family wasn’t in Safford visiting, Colleen obsessed constantly over pictures and videos of the beautiful little baby boy. Hyrum dominated her conversations and her thoughts, and he was in large part the reason she felt like she could get better.
Over the ensuing months, going through the rigors of chemotherapy, she displayed the expected results of dramatic weight loss, sickness, weakness, and hair loss. But, by early November of 2021, she was feeling significantly better, and asked her oncologist if they could just take a break from the treatments during the holiday season. He agreed that it was time, and that she would feel good for a while moving forward. November, December, January, and into February Colleen felt so much better. She was able to walk for significant distances without assistance, eat just about anything she wanted, and of course hold and play with her new favorite person, Hyrum. Again, she absolutely loved that little guy and as he grew and experienced his first birthday, and continued to amaze her, she also knew that every single moment with him was precious.
In the spring of 2022, the cancer markers had risen again, which meant new treatments were imminent. Colleen started a new regimen of a different chemotherapy treatment under a clinical trial that was having some success. Of course, as expected with such treatments, the sickness, and weakness returned. At the end of May, she had a few unfortunate developments which led to her having to be flown out to Tucson Medical Center, where she had a few procedures that kept her there for four days.
Upon returning home in early June, Colleen felt like her body was worn out. She was frustrated because in her mind she felt like she would be able to continue, but she also knew the realities of what she was facing. Subsequent visits with her oncologist in the coming weeks confirmed what she already was feeling, that her time in this mortal form was closing rapidly.
She was not significantly upset about this. Colleen was a person of great faith, and tremendous will power. Her convictions about the purpose of this life were as solid as the prophets of old. She also knew the frailties of her physical body were being exploited by disease. After much thought and prayer, and consulting with her family and her oncologist, Colleen decided to forego any further chemotherapy treatments, and on Wednesday June 15, 2022, Colleen entered the hospice system of care.
Over the next few days, she was at home, as comfortable as possible, being cared for by her husband Chris. Ben was able to come stay and sit by his mom’s side for several of those days, Rosemary (Colleen’s mom) was able to come visit and hold Colleen’s hand, and even both of her sisters, who she absolutely adored as well, were able to come see her briefly. This was a special time, and Colleen and Chris cherished each moment.
In the early morning hours of Thursday June 23, 2022, Colleen was called home to her Heavenly Father. Her husband Chris was by her side.
Besides her family, some whose lives she touched and who loved her were those she met on her mission to Scotland; her music and choir friends; the sisters she served with at church and the young women she taught and cooked for at Girls Camp; her coworkers at Eastern Arizona College; the women of her writers group, ANWA; the wonderful ladies of the Daughters of the American Revolution; her many students over the years; the staff and patrons in the family history center; neighbors and others too many to mention.
There is no end to the ripple effect of Colleen’s loving, accepting ways.
Those who knew Colleen in life, and felt her love, will completely understand the truth of what her brother Derek once told Chris when he said, “I’ve never met anyone who knew Colleen who didn’t love her.”
Colleen is survived by her husband Chris, son Benjamin, daughter-in-law Mckenna, grandson Hyrum, mother Rosemary (Isbell-Hendrickson, stepfather Stan), sister Rebecca (Tolman) and her family (husband Adam, children Kaylie, Brendan, Logan, and Cassidy), brothers Jared (wife Megan, child Kathryn), Derek (wife Teana, children Lydia, Charlotte, Daniel), and sister Amanda. She is also survived by many in-laws, cousins, and other relatives, as well as countless friends, all of whom she loved.
Funeral services for Colleen will be conducted Monday, July 11, 2022, at 10:00 a.m., at the Twentieth Street Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Bishop Paul Badger of the Safford Second Ward. Concluding services will follow in the Safford Cemetery.
Those who would like to attend the services via Facebook Live can join on Vining Funeral Home's Facebook page, Monday morning, July 11, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. (MST).