Jack Murrah was born in rural Alabama in 1949 and graduated from public high school in Birmingham in 1966. He attended Vanderbilt University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1971. Later he earned a master's degree in English from Middlebury College.
Between 1970 and 1978, he taught high school at the Alabama boys' reform school, the Chamberlain-Hunt Military Academy in Mississippi, and Baylor School in Chattanooga. In 1978 he joined the staff of the Lyndhurst Foundation, where he has served as a program officer, executive director, and, since 1989, and president. Lyndhurst is a private foundation that provides support for environmental conservation, public school reform, downtown and inner-city revitalization, and cultural activities, primarily in Chattanooga and the surrounding region.
Currently he serves on the boards of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, the Rural School and Community Trust, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Community Impact of Chattanooga, and the Tennessee Aquarium. He is also a member of the Mayor's Community Education Alliance in Chattanooga.