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Flocene Murphy enrolled at West Tennessee State Teachers College in 1928. She later became a noted painter.
Flocene Murphy enrolled at West Tennessee State Teachers College in 1928. She later became a noted painter.
As 103-year-old U of M graduate Flocene Strickland Murphy chats with her son in a retirement home, she is aglow in purple. From the royal purple jacket with a lilac and black scarf draped around her neck, to a large violet watch, Murphy cannot get enough of her signature color.

Why dress heavily in purple?

Why dress heavily in purple?

“It just made me sort of a star,” Murphy said.

That, along with her renowned paintings.

Born in Water Valley, Miss., in 1908, she enrolled at West Tennessee State Teachers College in 1928. Times were tough then — the Great Depression was just on the horizon — so she took a job making $10 a week at a downtown drugstore. Though she worked seven nights a week, she still managed to go to classes Mondays through Saturdays, and became a sketch artist for The DeSoto yearbook. One incident she recalls shows how times have changed.

Murphy said an art teacher censored one of her drawings of a man and woman sitting on a bench in a garden because it was too racy.

“His hand was on the lady’s arm,” Murphy said. “The art teacher didn’t like that, so she covered it with flowers.”

Murphy taught art education for 22 years before concentrating on her paintings in 1975. She often used scenes of running water in her paintings to help people remember her unusual first name. Her slogan was “Flowing scenes by Flocene.”

Murphy was also a member of Xi Beta Nu sorority, which became Alpha Gamma Delta, and was on the homecoming court her senior year.

The last time she set foot on the U of M campus was in 2010 for an Alpha Gamma Delta sorority dinner event.

The campus has gone through many changes and growth since the 1930s, she said. It makes her proud that the school has flourished.

“It makes me realize that progress is slow, but it’s there,” she said.

-- by Laura Fenton

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Last Updated: 1/8/13