In the 20 years she’s been employed at Campus Dining, Edith Murray has swiped cards, worked in the kitchen, washed dishes, forged bonds with frequent diners at the Center for Jewish Life (CJL), and baked cookies. She’s famous for her welcoming presence and for her strong connections with students, which persist even after graduation, when alums meet with Edith during Reunions.
Edith immigrated to the United States 40-odd years ago from Jamaica. She had family in the New Jersey area — a brother up by the Poconos, a sister in East Orange near Newark, various nieces and nephews scattered around the state. Her cousin was a manager in Campus Dining; when a slot opened, she applied, got the job, and started work at Princeton.
Edith herself lives in Hamilton, N.J. — near a Walmart and a Save-a-Lot — just over 10 miles from Princeton. Though the town is one train stop south of Princeton Junction, she prefers to commute via bus, which she credits as helping her always be on time for her shifts.
As a two-decade veteran of the University’s workforce, Edith has worked in each of the dining halls on campus at least once.
“I love all of them,” she said, as we sat downstairs in the CJL one morning, “but I have a bond here.” When she eventually retires — a milestone she predicted to be not very far in the future — she wants it to be from the CJL, where she feels that she has the strongest connection with the students who frequent it.
“I always call them pet names, so you know. When one hears that I call one, the other one comes and says, ‘Edith I need my pet name, what my pet name is,’ and then I make up a name … I have a real good relationship with these kids.”
Zach Sahin ’23 emphasized that the entire staff at the CJL is “very helpful,” and Edith is “very representative” of that.
One day, after eating lunch there, he arrived to class before realizing that a friend had accidentally tossed his retainer into the trash back at the CJL.
He hurried back and explained his story to Edith.
“I told her I had lost it, so she let me back in … she asked if I needed any help, so she started helping me, looking under the cushions and what-not, and then the other workers noticed that I had lost it, and so they helped me,” Sahin said, “and there were like three of us going through garbages and digging through the garbage.”
And those who have not seen Edith’s retainer-finding grit may have been privy to her work through a different sense: their taste buds.
“The sugar cookies [Edith makes] are very nostalgic,” Sahin said. “They remind you of those little cookies your mom would bake over Christmas, and they have little drawings of trees on them. They taste just like that, yet they’re better.”
Echoing Sahin’s comparison to his mother’s cookies, Edith stressed her personal mission at the CJL: “I make all of them who come to this door feel at home away from home.”
The CJL has had its own effect on Edith, too. Though she is not Jewish, she said she has learned a lot about Jewish culture — not to mention that her diet is now nearly Kosher, since she spends so much time at the CJL.
When she’s off the clock, Edith sees her friends, sharing dinners and conversations and TV shows with them. She’s an old-school Western fan who holds a particular place in her heart for John Wayne.
Post-CJL, Edith has eager ambitions: “I ask God to let me see the world, like travel, if I can afford it,” she said. “I want to go to Paris, that’s one part of my dream … and I would like to go to Africa to see the wild.”
Later, Edith told me another part of her dream: “To see everybody come together and share a meal together — that’s love.”