PLANT CITY — Every so often, far too often in recent years, Cecil Murray answered a phone call from the Tampa Police Department.
Another officer had died in the line of duty.
Soon, the thickset man who made a good living memorializing the dead would haul his engraving equipment from Murray Monument Co. in Plant City to 411 N Franklin St.
He would key in the same stencil design used for dozens of names already in black granite in front of the Tampa police headquarters. He would sandblast another name — sometimes two — onto the Roll Call of Honor memorial, then delicately apply gold flake to the letters with a special brush.
The department created the memorial in 1997 to honor its fallen. Since then, Mr. Murray engraved all 31 names, dating back to Officer John McCormick, who was shot by the boyfriend of one of two women who were having a dispute at Salter's Bar in 1895.
Now a headstone in Mr. Murray's warehouse awaits the engraving of another name — his own.
Mr. Murray, whose hands wrought permanence to a name when only the name was left, died Wednesday in his sleep of congestive heart failure, his family said. He was 59.
Like surgeons, engravers wear masks at work. Like surgeons, they have no room for mistakes.
But while the surgeon wields a scalpel, an engraver directs a sandblaster spraying 120 pounds of pressure per square inch at the target. Mr. Murray was considered a master of the trade.
"He could carve a rose in stone and make it look like it's blooming," said Mark Sherman, a Tampa engraver with 35 years of experience. "I've never run across anybody who can do monument work or repairs like Cecil."
A close friend, Sherman, 54, sometimes worked for Mr. Murray, lugging headstones of up to 4,000 pounds up to grave sites.
"It will beat you down if you don't know how to handle it right," Sherman said.
Mr. Murray generated much of his business by engraving pavers such as Ybor City's Walk of Fame and Tampa Riverwalk, or adding names to the Korean War Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park. Other engraving work appeared in Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.
His work for the Tampa police generated the most pride.
"It's cherished, an absolutely cherished way for us to show remembrance," said Tampa police Cpl. Shane Gadoury, who called Mr. Murray "a member of the family."
Mr. Murray tried to refuse payment for his work, but officers sometimes made him take it.
"We more or less forced it down his throat," Gadoury said.
In recent years, the deaths have come close together. In May 1998, Mr. Murray grooved the lettering for Ricky J. Childers and Randy S. Bell, Tampa officers who were killed, along with state trooper James Crooks, by Hank Earl Carr.
He added Lois M. Marrero in 2001, Detective Juan A. Serrano in 2006 and Cpl. Michael J. Roberts in August 2009. In June 2010, Mr. Murray was adding hundreds of names to the Ranger Monument in Fort Benning, Ga., when his wife called.
Two more Tampa police officers, David L. Curtis and Jeffrey A. Kocab, had been killed during a traffic stop.
"I guess I know what I'll be doing," he said.
Cecil Emory Murray was born in Tampa in 1953. He grew up in Plant City, where his father, Homer Murray, ran Murray Monument Co. He graduated from Plant City High.
At 18, he married 16-year-old Marie Allen. They had met when she chased down his car on horseback because she thought he was cute.
In his spare time, Mr. Murray enjoyed mudding in his ATV and playing in a weekly pool league.
The engraving work came with unique pressures. "It's kind of like a funeral director," he said a few years ago.
Mr. Murray had undergone heart surgery in recent years, but the suddenness of his death surprised his family. "He was always the strong one," said daughter Kristin Murray, 31.
His family will continue to run the business.
Mr. Murray's cremated remains will be interred near other family members in a corner of Thonotosassa Cemetery.
Dwayne Smith, a son-in-law he trained, will sandblast Mr. Murray's name onto a black granite headstone, along with the dates of his birth and death.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.