I lived in El Dorado for 20 years, working as a reporter, columnist and editor at the News-Times. I won a few awards, met many people I still call friends, covered the first state football championship in Junction City’s history, and met the woman I’m lucky to still call my wife.

Although I’ve been away from South Arkansas for about a decade, I was still struck by the news last week that Murphy Oil Corporation would close its headquarters in El Dorado and move it to Houston, Texas.

The Murphy family was nearly synonymous with El Dorado. Charles H. Murphy Sr. founded the roots of what would become Murphy Oil, then it was turned over to his son, Charles H. Murphy Jr. The younger Murphy and three siblings in 1946 created C.H. Murphy & Company. In 1950 that was incorporated as Murphy Corporation.

About 600 people who work with Murphy USA will remain in El Dorado.

I met Charles Jr. on several occasions and worked with his children who carved out careers of their own. Despite Mr. Murphy’s wealth and prestige, he was as downhome as you can imagine. In the business world he was a titan. Personal friends included presidents, prime ministers and Saudi princes.

George W. Bush spoke in El Dorado twice, including once as president; his father visited a few times, and the late Barbara Bush came to town at least once. 

When Mr. Murphy died in 2002, dignitaries from all over the world came to El Dorado. Part of the excitement was watching plane traffic at the little airport to see who was flying in for the service. A lengthy obituary ran in the New York Times.

The Murphy family did as much to build El Dorado as anyone else. There were other business giants there, but the Murphy family was something special. 

One of Murphy Oil’s lasting legacies will be the El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program that will continue, last week’s news reports said.

The program was developed and put into place primarily due to the work of Claiborne P. Deming, chairman of the board and former CEO at Murphy.

Deming said, “The El Dorado office closure is particularly painful and difficult, because the company was founded here by C. H. Murphy Jr. and has been an integral and important part of the community for many years.”

Thanks to the El Dorado Promise, a student who attends El Dorado schools for all 12 years will get 100 percent of their college paid for. To date, 2,662 students have gotten scholarships through the Promise. They have attended 145 different schools in 35 states.

In 2010, George W. returned to El Dorado as former president to deliver the keynote address to students at the annual Academic Signing Day.

Most recently, Murphy Oil was behind the redevelopment of downtown El Dorado. The Murphy Arts District included the construction of an amphitheater, a grand restaurant and smaller live music venue, and more.

Murphy’s impact in El Dorado was felt in numerous ways, including the annual high school football seasons.

Each year members of the El Dorado Wildcats, coaches, cheerleaders and others were introduced in a ceremony at Murphy headquarters. It made the young men and women feel special, for sure. So much of what went on in that town was supported by Murphy Oil. As a reporter, I knew I could get answers about anything to do with business or oil and gas with one phone call to Murphy people.

Matthew Shepherd grew up in El Dorado. Today he is speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives.

“Murphy Oil Corporation has been a staple of my hometown for decades and I’m saddened to hear that El Dorado will no longer be its home,” he said last week.

“My heart goes out to the employees and their families who are facing uncertain times. I’m thankful for Murphy Oil’s contribution to El Dorado over the years and its commitment to continue the El Dorado Promise which has helped create a brighter future for our students and will continue to do so.”