Not many days passed that Robert Murray didn’t deliver his son, usually hand in hand, to school at last year.
So when Robert died last March at age 42 gone was his son Miles’ consistent companion across the school yard. His death would have seemingly ended his dream to take his son to school on the fire rig.
Yet on the first day of school, Miles, a second-grader at Maire Elementary and a resident of , rode to school on a fire engine and got a personal escort to the school door by Detroit firefighters who stepped in to make sure Miles’ dad’s wish came true.
The escort witnessed by parents and teachers brought tears to their eyes, nothing unusual really on a first day of school, but watching Miles be lovingly walked in by his father’s co-workers and wearing his dad’s big fire helmet, made some parents and teachers weep. They also hugged and clapped as Miles was saluted.
Miles walked through the school door and all the way to his classroom with the big helmet swallowing his little head.
The ride drew so much positive attention, City of Grosse Pointe Public Safety Director James Fox said Maire officials want to auction off a ride to the first day of school on a fire truck at an upcoming event. Fox said he agreed.
Miles' teacher, Amy Brauer, let Robert Murray's helmet "be on display so he could look at whenever he wanted,” his mom, Kimberley Murray said.
Miles was with his father last year at a basketball game at the University of Detroit-Mercy when Robert Murray collapsed and died. Besides Miles and his wife, he left behind a daughter, Peyton, now a seventh-grader at .
Peyton also got a ride to Maire on the first day along with the experience of being in a fire rig with the lights on. At the end of her and Miles' ride the sirens were turned on.
“This would have been the first year that he was not there to take them to school on the first day so to have them do this just meant so much,” Kimberley Murray said.
The idea of someday taking Miles to school by fire truck originated with his father when he and members of The Phoenix, the Detroit branch of a national community service organization made up of firefighters, decided to purchase a fire house and fire rig, Kimberley Murray said. Robert Murray served on the board of The Phoenix. He was also a lieutenant in the Detroit Fire Marshal's office and had received the Medal of Valor in 2009 for saving a family, while off-duty, from a burning home.
“The Phoenix group had just purchased the rig. They were trying to decide how to use it. One of the ideas was to rent out the rig for birthday parties or special occasions. ... I had no idea about any of this until the funeral service, but my husband had said that once they had the rig up and running his son was going to be the first to ride it, and on the first day of school he was going to go to school on the rig.”
His co-workers and fellow members of Phoenix remembered his words and made a promise to Miles to take him to school the first day of school, she said.
Thankfully, she said, she could be there to see it. As a teacher for Detroit Public Schools, she’s always had to be with her own students on school mornings. But due to a change in her assignment with the district, she got to be there Tuesday.
Kimberley Murray said the support of The Phoenix and of her and Robert’s co-workers has saved her from feeling she couldn’t face the day some days. She also thanked the Maire and Grosse Pointe communities for helping in numerous ways–from meals and gifts for the kids to yard work, sympathy notes and kind words.
“I’m sure you can imagine how it has been for us to lose my husband, the children’s father. ... It’s very devastating. I've never had this kind of loss. I don’t understand exactly why it happened, but I accept it. I don’t know if I necessarily want to call it a tragedy, but in this difficult time we’ve also had so many blessings,” she said.
“Sometimes I sit and say, ‘I don’ t know how I’m going to do this.' Then something happens or someone calls, something takes away the worry. We’re very blessed. It’s definitely a loss. I can’t wallow or feel sorry for us because our needs our being met.”
She said seeing Robert’s co-workers walk Miles into the school, even being there in the first place, touched her deeply. “That’s when I lost it.”
“They took his hand,” she said, “and walked him all the way to the door."
Just like dad would have done.