“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. We talk about him all the time. His memory is alive in our home and extended family.”
Sarah Murray is talking about her husband, Vada, who passed away in 2011, at age 44, after a three-year battle with lung cancer. His daughter, Kendall, was 9 years old at the time of his death. Daughter Harper was just 6.
Vada’s death was hard to accept on many levels.
He’d never smoked. Nor had his parents. And he was a pillar in the Ann Arbor community, a Cincinnati transplant who played football at the University of Michigan (he played in three Rose Bowls, 1987, 1989, 1990) and never left. He distinguished himself on the Ann Arbor police force and was the consummate father to his two young daughters, as well as Deric, his first-born.
“He was a laid back, gentle person,” Sarah said. “You would not know it from football or policing. He stood 6-4 and could be intimidating, but behind that was a family-oriented, gentle soul.”
He had so much to live for.
He was too young to die.
Named after Cincinnati Reds great Vada Pinson, Vada was a star football player in the Queen City at famed Moeller High School. He wore No. 27 and asked for it again when he got to Michigan. It’s only natural that both of his girls, who are volleyball standouts, also rep the 27.
Harper, who is a high school sophomore and perhaps the top recruit nationally in the Class of 2023, first asked her club director at Legacy if she could wear the number 27 in her 14s year. So young when her father passed, she didn’t have many distinct memories of him, but remember him wearing that number in photographs.
“I wanted to have a reminder of him when I play,” she said.
Kendall, who was a top 100 recruit in the Class of 2020, asked for the number when she got to Michigan, where she is a 6-foot-2 freshman middle blocker.
“We felt it was not only appropriate, but inspiring,” longtime Wolverine head coach Mark Rosen said. “Vada was an amazing Michigan Man and his kids share so much of him.”
Kendall had a specific reason for wanting to wear her father’s number.
“Coming into my freshman year at Michigan I knew I was going to struggle,” she explained. “I wanted something meaningful that I can always look back on when I do struggle and know why I am wearing this jersey. It’s a reminder to keep pushing, to give 100 percent.”
Sarah said that Kendall and Harper resemble Vada both physically and the way they carry themselves on the court. Watching them play, she admits, brings mixed emotions.
“There’s a certain place in the pit of my stomach that is attached to my heart,” she explained. “Every time they play I can feel it. There’s so much pride in watching them play and a little bit of sadness that he isn’t here to watch them.”
Vada’s plan was to retire early from the force to become a full-time dad and see his kids through their formative years. Lung cancer robbed the Murray family of those years, but he laid the foundation and remains the inspiration.
“They know they represent him and his legacy,” Sarah said. “If I could talk to him, I would say, ‘They are exactly where you thought they’d be. They are representing you and everything you stood for very well and you would be proud.”