A ‘one of a kind’ leader has died. Florida Keys Mayor Emeritus Sylvia Murphy was 86

Sylvia Murphy knew the Keys.

She began her career in Florida Keys government in the fire department as an emergency medical technician. She also worked at a local high school and for the health department.

She then turned her focus to politics, serving as a Monroe County commissioner and as mayor. She retired in 2020 after 14 years on the dais.

“ ‘You worked in every fire station in Monroe County,’ ” she said in a 2020 interview, recalling a conversation she had with a friend who convinced her to run for office.

“ ’You know the people in the general area. They know you.’ He said, ‘You got a bunch of votes out there whether you like it or not,’ ” she said.

Murphy died Saturday of undisclosed causes. She was 86.

“Sylvia’s years of service to this county and her intimate knowledge of it were invaluable. She’s one of a kind, and she’s going to be missed, there’s no question about that,” said Commissioner David Rice, who represents the Marathon area in the Middle Keys.

Murphy was well-known for her humor, directness and willingness to speak her mind on issues she deemed important to the Upper Keys community she represented and where she lived since moving to South Florida from Massachusetts when she was 18.

“She was a good friend, and I’ll miss her counsel,” Sue Heim, a Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District commissioner, told the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.com. “You knew where she stood on everything. You may not always agree with her, but I had tremendous respect for her.”

Comments quickly poured in on social media from friends, colleagues and others in the Keys community.

“Rest in Peace Sylvia. Your service to our community is finished. Job well done. Now it is time for you to be one of our angels,” County Commissioner Michelle Lincoln said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward called Murphy “a great asset” to the Keys.

“She always cared about the people. She will be deeply missed,” Ward wrote in a Facebook post. “R.I.P. my friend. Thank you for a job well done, and thank you for being my friend.”

Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy presents the 2018 Employee of the Year award to Donald Lowrie. Lowrie was also awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for his efforts in saving a girl from two dogs that were attacking her.
Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy presents the 2018 Employee of the Year award to Donald Lowrie. Lowrie was also awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for his efforts in saving a girl from two dogs that were attacking her.

Before running for office, Murphy was an emergency medical technician, serving with Monroe County Fire Rescue until 1996, and for two decades with the Tavernier Volunteer Fire Department.

She also worked at Coral Shores High School, for the county translating its Spanish archives into English, and for the county Heath Department.

“My prayers go out to Sylvia’s family,” said state Rep. Jim Mooney, whose District 120 seat includes all of the Keys. “She was an instrumental part of our community and will definitely be missed.”

In December 2021, Monroe County commissioners passed a resolution proclaiming Murphy “Mayor Emeritus and Good Will Ambassador for the Florida Keys.”

“In her voluntary and symbolic position, she can award the coveted honorary Conch Certificates to those she deems deserving of such an honor,” the county said in a news release. Conch Certificates are proudly hung on many a Keys office wall by recipients of the awards.

One of Murphy’s signature achievements as a commissioner was the county’s purchase of Rowell’s Marina at mile marker 104 in Key Largo and its transition into an eight-acre waterfront park.

But when asked by the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.com in 2019 for a story on her decision not to seek reelection in 2020 what her greatest accomplishment was while in office, she said it was helping her constituents navigate the complexities of county government.

“I’ve been a very good traffic director, and that’s what I am here for,” Murphy said. “That’s what all county commissioners should be there for, not necessarily for getting big projects built. Big projects cost taxpayers money.”

Murphy was twice widowed, but information on her survivors was not immediately available, nor was information on funeral arrangements or services.