Bertha E. Murphy, a longtime Bethlehem resident, passed away on Friday at the Moravian Village retirement community, where she moved several years ago after more than five decades in the Levering Manor neighborhood in north Bethlehem.
She was 93 and died peacefully with her husband Leon at her side. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in May.
Throughout their lives, Bert and Lee, as they were known, were inseparable. They were raised on the same street in Winthrop, Mass. — Bert’s older brother, Edward Bryant, was Lee’s best friend — and after marrying lived in Winthrop, Cleveland and New Orleans before moving to Bethlehem in 1962 for Lee’s job at Bethlehem Steel.
Over the years, Bert held various positions in banking and retail, but dedicated most of her life to caring for her family, volunteering and enjoying the great outdoors. She was an avid tennis player, golfer, aerobics swimmer and gardener. Growing up in Winthrop near the waterfront outside Boston, she loved sailing and had a deep passion for the ocean, which she never lost, even after settling in Pennsylvania in a home that she humorously described as hopelessly landlocked — at the edge of a cornfield with a horse pasture abutting the backyard. (They later added a pool, and bought a lakefront cottage in the Poconos, to increase the water quotient in their lives).
For her 90th birthday, Bert’s only wish was to return to the beach and her childhood neighborhood, where she was able to feed the seagulls, watch boats in Boston Harbor and reconnect with old friends. “The sea can be a place of never-ending movement, but also peace and tranquility,” she wrote in a reflection she entitled Sea of Life. “The sea sometimes reminds me of my life.”
Bert was a member of the Rebekahs, an international service-oriented organization and a branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. She wholeheartedly believed in the group’s mission “to live peaceably” and “do good unto all,” and she will be best remembered for living that selfless and loving life to its fullest.
In her later years, she also belonged to the Red Hat Society, a group that promotes fun and friendship among women -- all while donning (often whimsical) red hats. Known for a hearty laugh and sharp wit, she took great pleasure in hosting Red Hat gatherings in the Poconos at Lake Wallenpaupack, where she and Lee also enjoyed summers at their cottage.
Bert was raised in the Congregational Church, and after moving to Bethlehem, attended the Christian Science Church before joining East Hills Moravian Church. For many years, she was active in the PTA at Governor Wolf Elementary School, where all four of her children attended, and she was a longtime member of the Bethlehem Garden Club.
A lifelong Republican, Bert was a regular volunteer at her polling station on Election Day, and in her younger years, served as president of the Republican Women’s Club. Born to an immigrant mother, Bert spoke of the privilege of being an American. When she and Lee would arrive at their cottage in the Poconos, even for a night, the routine involved raising the American flag on the shoreline. They also frequently hosted all-day block parties on the Fourth of July, beginning with a sumptuous blueberry pancake breakfast in the backyard and ending after dusk with sparklers and fireworks.
Bertha Elizabeth Bryant was born on July 16, 1928, in Albany, N.Y., to the late Hilda Lauritzen Bryant and Wilbur C. Bryant. Her mother arrived from Denmark at the end of World War I through Ellis Island and later met Wilbur, a locomotive engineer for the Boston and Albany Railroad. As toddlers, Bert and her brother Ed journeyed to their new home in Massachusetts by motoring down the Hudson River from Rensselaer County, N.Y., on their father’s cabin cruiser, a former admiral’s boat that had been declared surplus by the Navy. Bert graduated from Winthrop High School in 1946, and immediately went to work at the First National Bank of Boston, with her paychecks, as she told it, willingly going toward her brother’s car payments and his education at Boston University.
Bert’s mother was a staunch believer in assimilation, never teaching her children to speak Danish, but nonetheless giving Bert a strong affinity for at least two things Danish: pastry and meatballs, known as frikadeller. Bert joyfully marked her last birthday in July with a pastry instead of a cake, and as her children and grandchildren can attest, frikadellers were her masterful go-to dish for countless family get-togethers. Bert spoke endlessly of the importance of a close family, and the grounding her parents provided. “I was very lucky to have grown up in a home full of love,” she wrote in another reflection. “I cherish that all the time.”
Bert was predeceased by her brother Ed and a stepbrother Henry Nielsen. In addition to her husband Leon, she is survived by her four children, John and his wife Susanna of Rio Rancho, N.M; Linda and her husband Phil Cantelmi of Denver, N.C.; Dean of Montclair, N.J, and Leon of Bonney Lake, Wash.; six grandchildren, Orion, Christian, Justin and Devin Murphy, and Alex and Christina Cantelmi; and one great grandchild, Lacey Murphy.
Burial will be Saturday, Sept. 11 at 11 a.m. at Nisky Hill Cemetery, 254 E Church St., Bethlehem. Bertha's arrangements have been entrusted to the Cantelmi Long Funeral Home, Bethlehem. A memory tribute may be placed at www.cantelmifuneralhome.com.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, 399 Market Street, Suite 102, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
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Alzheimer’s Association (Delaware Valley Chapter)
399 Market Street #102, Philadelphia PA 19106