Mr. Zoning they called him around the corridors of Evanston’s civic center. As assistant corporate counsel for the city from 1971 to 1978, James T. Murray (1941-2010) became a local zoning expert and, when he entered private practice, he applied what he’d learn.
And always in the most diplomatic way. Friends and legal foes all describe him as the consummate professional, a lawyer’s lawyer. “He was always civil, responsive, calm, kind and brimming with that Irish wit,” Evanston lawyer Tony Lamberis said, recalling zoning cases they worked on together or in opposition.
Mr. Murray died in mid-July after a long bout with cancer. He was born in Chicago and lived in Wilmette, but his legal practice centered on Evanston where he went to bat for zoning issues regarding the old Dryden Mansion at the northwest corner of Dempster and Ridge, the bank building at 900 Chicago and Main and, more recently, Church Street Village and the Winthrop building at 1567 Maple. The footprints of James T. Murray are all over town.
He won the controversial 1980s case to keep Yesterday’s Restaurant open in a residential neighborhood at 1850 Sherman, now the site of Lou Malnati’s Pizzzeria. “It was a hot issue,” remembered Jim Wolinski, Evanston’s community development director at the time, “and Jim won the case for Yesterday’s.”
He said, “Jim also won the case for Leon Robinson about his parking lot on Emerson west of Green Bay. Jim had many high-profile cases and, more often than not, he won them.”
Often, Mr. Murray went up against Steve Bernstein. “Before I was an Evanston alderman, he and I did probably 99 percent of all zoning cases before the city council,” Mr. Bernstein said. “He was a good lawyer and a decent man. It didn’t matter what he argued for, he was always honorable. If Jim said something, you could take it to the bank.”
He said, “Jim loved numbers. He loved puzzles. He was always above-board and positive.” Even with cancer, Mr. Bernstein said, “Jim would dismiss a setback as just an infection, the oxygen tank and wheelchair as just an inconvenience. His death is a tremendous loss.”
Mr. Murray is survived by his wife Sharon Curulewski Murray and three children, Kristen Murray (Mrs. Matthew) Endre, Kara and Griffin Murray. Kara Murray, his assistant for the last five years, has the difficult task of closing his law office.
He loved Chicago and the North Shore, she said: “That’s what kept him here.” After graduating from St. Ignatius High School, he went to Loyola Univerity and Loyola Law School. “The Jesuits offered to send him to any Jesuit college,” she said, “but he chose Loyola, close to home.”
After the funeral mass at SS. Faith, Hope & Charity Church in Winnetka, he was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, still close to home.