Breaking News
More () »

When President Carter visited Bangor, the Murray family opened their doors to an unforgettable experience

The former president spent the night at the Murray’s home, and even gave one of their kids a ride back to D.C.

BANGOR, Maine — It was a typical February in 1978 when suddenly the White House descended on Maple Street.

President Jimmy Carter had decided to make a visit.

"But the fact he was coming to Maine at all, and to Bangor and to our house was mind-blowing," Winnie Murray Higgins laughed.

She was 22 years old then, and the former president had decided to spend the night at her family’s house.

Carter was coming to Bangor for a town hall meeting at the Bangor Auditorium, and also to help the campaign of then-Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Hathaway, who was up for reelection that year. 

Carter had stayed in a family home at least one other visit to a different state, and the White House wanted him to do so in Bangor. 

The East Side home of Robert and Laura Murray and their five children was the one chosen. The Murrays were active local Democrats and their son Frank had served in the Maine Legislature, both of which may have played a role in the decision. 

But they weren’t given much of a warning. The Murrays were told they had been chosen just a few days before Carter’s visit.

"Well, I was wicked proud they had picked Dad from all the good men in Maine and he was so happy," daughter Kathi Murray, who at that time was already working as a nurse in Florida, said. 

Her brother Frank was in a Catholic seminary in Washington, studying to become a priest. An older sister was also married.

The youngest of the five, 18-year-old Buddy Murray, now a Maine Superior Court judge, was a freshman at Boston College, where he said he got the news in an unexpected way.

"So I’m walking from the bus to my dorm, one of my pals yells out the window of our dorm... 'The president of the United States will be staying at the Murray home!'"

The children all headed home to Bangor to be there for the president’s Friday night visit. Their recollections of that time include a Secret Service Winnebago in the yard, traffic barricades and checkpoints on some neighborhood streets, and the fact that they could not actually sleep in the house while the president visited.

"They sort of made it clear to us you’re all welcome home to be here when he stays here but you can’t stay the night," Frank recalled. "Because there are only four bedrooms, one for the parents, one for the president, one for his appointment's secretary, who stayed in the house with him. And we couldn’t all stay in one bedroom."

They said Carter arrived in a presidential limousine, greeted the parents on the porch, then walked across the street to greet neighbors and other spectators gathered for a glimpse of him. Then, President Carter walked through the snow and into the house, carrying his own bags—a detail several of the Murrays mentioned, which was captured by a White House photographer.

Following the town hall meeting, he returned to the house where the family had one of several chances to spend time with the 39th president.

"Really a sweet gentleman," Kathi recalled. "He was so gentle, so sweet. When I first went in to shake his hand, he hugged me."

"And he instantly made you feel very comfortable, put all of us at ease," Buddy said. 

Sister Winnie, too, remembers Carter as friendly and glad to be visiting.

"But he was definitely happy to come into this humble house and sit down and have coffee and go to bed. The next morning he made his bed, came down, and joined us for breakfast."

The family then traveled with Carter to a final event at Bangor’s Husson College, and then he took off—inviting Frank to fly back to Washington with him on Air Force One.

That experience gave Frank a lasting impression of the president. He remembers that after an intermediate stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, Carter came out of his office on the plane and sat next to Frank on a hassock to talk.

"He had been very well prepared. He knew I had been in the Legislature, that I had run for Secretary of State, but he was more interested in my decision to become a priest," Frank said.

Carter was not able to win reelection, due in part to the Iranian hostage crisis and economic problems, but went on to years of work on issues ranging from peace in the middle east to housing for American families in need. 

As the former president rests in hospice care, the Murrays reflected on the man they got to know in their own living room.

"He has, by the things he’s been involved in since the time in office, shown how a former president can influence such power in such quiet ways," Frank said.

Winnie said she recalled a person with great humility, as well as concern for others, which she thinks helped guide his life after the White House.

"I think he was, and is a good man, and that transcended his life before, during, and certainly after."

Brother Frank Murray has since purchased the family home. A few years ago, the four siblings gave him a bronze plaque, which reads, "The Murray House, home of Robert and Laura Murray, where President Jimmy Carter was an overnight guest on February 17, 1978."

That plaque now faces Maple Street, on the Murray House front door. 

More stories from 207:

For the latest breaking news, weather, and traffic alerts, download the NEWS CENTER Maine mobile app.

Before You Leave, Check This Out