Murray Hendel – One of a Kind

By Dave Trecker
Published in Florida Weekly

Murray Hendel was just that. One of a kind.

He passed away earlier this month and left a legacy we mere mortals can only dream about.

He never ran for public office but had more clout than most local officials. Political wannabes routinely lined up for his support. Charismatic, direct and funny, Murray mobilized people for a cause, then sent them off to deliver.

From a prominent Connecticut family of retailers and Democrat kingmakers, Murray referred to his northern relatives as “those pinkos.” He was a personal friend of Senator Bob Dole and a self-proclaimed New England Republican. But politics never got in Murray’s way. He was one of those rare people who could rise above politics.

I crossed paths with Murray many times. When he chaired the Collier County Presidents Council, he recruited me, then parceled out an assignment: “Trecker, I want you to follow what goes on in Tallahassee and report on it every month.” Many years and many organizations later, I still keep track of the Florida legislature.

Murray Hendel

When Murray became disenchanted with the CCPC, he gathered Bob Raymond and me for breakfast at a local Skillets and, together, we founded the Collier Community Alliance, later to become the Collier Citizens Council. Murray, of course, was the first president. He was decisive and very impatient. “Trecker, do you think we should do this? Good. Take care of it.”

A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Murray was — like the writer — a huge UConn basketball fan. When both the UConn men and women won national championships in 2014, he presented me with a commemorative jersey. It doesn’t fit (Murray was a big guy), but it’s still hanging in my closet.

His bio is something to behold. A CPA by training, he served in the military and was a senior executive in a number of firms. While working with the IRS, he received a National Presidential Award from President Lyndon Johnson.

In retirement in Naples, Murray chaired the Tourist Development Council and Naples General Employees’ Pension Fund and served as a director on the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the CCPC and CCC, he served as president of the Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums and the Holocaust Museum of SW Florida.

To no one’s surprise, Murray caulked up a slew of awards.

• Community Achievement Award (2010)

• Samuel Noe Award (2010)

• Collier County Community Service Award (2015)

• Collier County Sheriff’s Office Community Star (2018)

•Jewish Historical Society of SWFL Award (2018)

And he has an award named after him — the CCC’s Murray Hendel Award for Civic Achievement. Recipients have included community leaders who battled identity theft, promoted mental health care and provided medical service to the needy.

Murray was in constant motion. I watched as he led the charge to raise funds for the Freedom Memorial, a project that honors veterans and first responders. He also championed a one-cent increase in the tourist development tax, a controversial proposal that was enacted in 2017.

One of his proudest achievements was “Murray’s Mile,” a one mile stretch of boardwalk along the Gulf Shore beach named for him by the Naples City Council. To stroll with Murray on his early morning walks there was the ultimate recognition. Kathleen Passidomo and past mayors Bill Barnett and John Sorey were among his companions. “If you wanted political blessing,” said Bob Raymond, himself a regular walking companion, “you had to join Murray on his ‘mile’.”

He was indeed one of a kind — a friend and mentor to many of us. But you can’t get too maudlin about Murray. He didn’t like praise. It took up too much time. ¦

— A Naples resident, Dave Trecker serves on a number of local boards.