Obituary: Olga Murray (1925 – 2024)

Read Olga’s obituary released by other publications:

Olga Murray (June 1, 1925 – February 20, 2024)

Olga Murray, née Davis, adored founder and inspirational leader of Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF), died peacefully in her home on February 20, 2024 at the age of 98.

Olga was born in Romania in 1925 and immigrated with her family to the U.S. at the age of six. She grew up in the Bronx and graduated from high school at age 16. In an early display of the moxie and derring-do that would define her life, she spent the next four years traveling the country by herself, working odd jobs and moving from town to town, before returning to New York and earning an undergraduate degree in political science from Columbia University.

Olga’s first job out of college was answering the thousands of weekly letters sent to the celebrity muckraking journalist Drew Pearson, whose syndicated column was published in hundreds of newspapers nationwide. She continued that work at night and in the morning after enrolling at the George Washington University Law School in 1951, where she was one of only a handful of female students. While there, she met her future husband and the love of her life, Judd Murray.

After law school, Olga joined Judd in San Francisco and passed the California bar exam. At a time when women were shut out from many legal jobs, she secured a prestigious position working for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California until his retirement, and then for Associate Justice Stanley Mosk. During her 37-year tenure at the Court, Olga helped write important decisions in the areas of civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental policy.

OIga Murray (top row, second from the left) with Associate Justice Stanley Mosk. Mosk was Olga's boss at the California Supreme Court for 28 years.

In 1984, Olga went trekking in Nepal and became smitten with the country’s children, whom she called “the most joyful, funny, amiable little kids anywhere on earth.” Observing their often dire circumstances, she experienced an epiphany: as she put it later, “It was like a lightbulb went on and I knew that I would devote the rest of my life to protecting, educating and empowering children in Nepal.” Thus began the second and most rewarding chapter of her life.

Olga returned to Nepal each year, initially providing scholarships to children in the capital city of Kathmandu. In 1990, Olga cofounded the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF) and, over the next three decades, grew the organization from a handful of volunteers to a robust operation with programs throughout the country. Her guiding philosophy was that all of NYF’s programs should be designed and led by local Nepalis who could respond in culturally appropriate, high impact ways.

Olga crosses a bridge while trekking in the beautiful Himalayas in Nepal in the 1980s.

With Olga in the U.S. and NYF President Som Paneru in Nepal, the foundation educated well over 50,000 children, built and operated homes for underprivileged children, established nutritional centers, founded and ran Nepal’s first children’s counseling center and first home for children with HIV, operated vocational education programs, created advocacy and scholarship programs for so-called “untouchable” caste members, and responded to natural disasters. In 2016, NYF founded one of Nepal’s finest family-style children’s communities, known as Olgapuri, or Olga’s Little Oasis for Children.

Perhaps the foundation’s most celebrated work has been its Indentured Daughters Program, which began in 2000 with the discovery that girls as young as six in the lowlands of southwestern Nepal were being sold into indentured servitude by their impoverished families. The practice had persisted for many generations, with the indentured girls spending their lives as house slaves, often beaten or sexually abused. NYF not only freed and educated nearly 13,000 girls, but also brought a lawsuit up to the Supreme Court of Nepal, prompting the government to outlaw and eradicate the practice.

OIga Murray often joined thousands of liberated Kamlari women in marches through the Dang District, chanting in Nepali for an end to the kamlari system.

NYF’s extraordinary impact and Olga’s compassionate leadership distinguished her as a cherished hero to thousands of Nepalis and others worldwide, including leading government officials, community leaders and philanthropists.

“I wish I could be like Olga when I grow up,” said longtime friend, the best-selling Chilean novelist Isabel Allende. “She is my hero. Her legacy serves as a guiding light, an encouragement to all of us who strive to make a positive change in this world.”

Olga divided her time between her homes in Sausalito, California, and Kathmandu, Nepal, and served until her last day as NYF’s honorary president, continuing to do whatever she could for the children who had captured her heart. She wisely and responsibly planned for her succession — preparing the organization’s staff, board and donors to fulfill their shared promise to continue caring for the wonderful children of Nepal.

Olga was preceded in death by her former husband, Judd Murray. She is survived by her stepsons Patrick and Steve Murray, nephews Paul and Tom Atelsek, niece Jean Atelsek, as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and countless friends whose lives have been improved and enriched by her presence. The family is especially grateful to Santosh Basnet, Durga Thapa, Som Paneru, and Sajani Amatya for their compassionate and loving care of Olga.

In keeping with Olga’s wishes, services will be private. Nepal Youth Foundation will host a celebration of Olga’s life and commitment to the children of Nepal as part of a “Founder’s Day” ceremony on May 30. She will be missed so very much by so very many. Contributions in her honor may be made to the Nepal Youth Foundation.