by Edward Alan Conroy Sr.
Of the family in general, the Murtagh boys, Garnet's children were/are the most intelligent. Robert was tested and was officially declared a genius in the 1950's.
Robert Murtagh was my cousin and my best friend. He, myself, and Cousin Sue Shipley were pals. We had many young-teenage adventures together.
Robert was athletic, good looking, intelligent and a little superior. Although I really knew he was a superior person, I resented the fact that he sometimes acted superior. One day he dived into a swimming pool. His dive took him all the way to the bottom--where he hit his head. He surfaced with a headache, but thought little of it. The next morning, when he woke-up, he was totally blind! I was so appalled by this development that I forgot my slight dislike of him and set out to do everything I could for him.
The impact of the dive had pinched his optic nerves--in a manner that I still do not understand. A special doctor from California flew in to investigate Robert's problem and decided to operate. After the operation, Robert had to lay absolutely flat on his back, with his eyes covered, for four months straight. He could not even get up to go to the bathroom. During that time, I spent hours and days taking care of him, keeping him company, reading to him, and playing records for him. We got really well acquainted and Robert, my cousin, became my best friend.
Four months later, Robert was given special glasses that had only pin-holes in them to look through and he was allowed to sit up. However, he was not allowed to bend over, ride in cars or do any strenuous activity. It seems that any forward motion of his body--such as would occur if a car that he was riding-in had to do any emergency braking, could cause a reoccurrence of the blindness.
Finally, Robert was allowed normal glasses and was allowed a few rides in a car- -but he was cautioned to never, in his life, attempt to lift more than a 40 lb weight! I had just got my driver's license and Robert picked me as the driver for his first post-surgery drive! I was so nervous that I was shaking. You know how you are supposed to look ahead in traffic and anticipate? I had to look blocks ahead and attempt to read other driver's and pedestrian's minds! Miraculously, Robert and I both survived the drive.
It was many years before Robert could really resume a somewhat normal life. The accident truly changed him. He became one of the nicest people I have ever known. I remember one typical time, when I was having a party that was not going to well. People were bored, people were not talking to me or each other. Then Robert showed up and it was like the sun had broken-out form an overcast sky. He entered the room and his joy of life lit the place up. People gravitated to him. Soon there was conversation and smiles. The party became a success.
When he was an adult, Robert moved to Alaska for a couple of years and worked at some rough jobs that paid enormous wages. He saved his money and returned to Portland where he attended Portland State. He was so smart that within a few years he learned Russian and began teaching it.
I am going to stop at this point and tell you about this time: It was the end of the Beatnik era and the start of the Flower Children period. The drug LSD had just made it into the streets. Robert, after class one night retired with friends and students to one of the many strange coffee houses that existed downtown.
Just a few years before, I had been in some of the same places--which were very different and quite odd establishments. One was called in the Lopoc House and it had blackboards for walls in the bathrooms; chalk was furnished so you could write on these walls. Another odd place was the Fungus Room which had a serious and very powerful stereo system--and they played loud jazz. This place was near Portland State.
Anyway, one fateful night, at the Fungus Room, when Robert left to go to the bathroom, someone laced his coffee with LSD. He was taken to the hospital when the hallucinations started and blood tests soon showed what was wrong. The hospital kept him until he recovered then he was discharged. Unfortunately, they had not yet found out that this drug could "come-back" in "flashbacks" and when Robert again had hallucinations, they thought (as did he) that other things were going wrong.
Robert was also taking classes at college where he was reading some weird philosopher's book that advocated suicide. To make a long story short, he and his girlfriend--also a member of the class--laid out a blanket in the midst of the Redwoods in California, took overdoses of pills, then laid back, after covering themselves with black pepper--to keep wild animals at bay. They both died!