Soundings: More laughter than tears at Mike Murphy's Irish wake

OlympianJuly 14, 2014 

92/08/19 Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy

OLYMPIAN FILE, 1994

Murphy's friends remember a life well-lived.

Good food, good drink, good stories: It was the kind of party Mike Murphy would have enjoyed.

About 250 of Murphy’s best friends gathered at Indian Summer Golf & Country Club late Sunday afternoon to praise him, toast him and remember him as a caring, fun-loving guy who was raised on an Elma farm and grew into a savvy politician whose toothy smile could light up a room.

Michael Northrup Murphy, 72, died suddenly of heart failure June 11 at his Sunset Beach Drive home near Olympia. Many who knew him are still struggling with the fact there are no more fishing trips, no more cocktail parties, no more golf games, no more jokes, no more political tales to share with this genuinely nice guy.

My relationship with Murphy began in 1978. He was a young Grays Harbor County commissioner, representing east county and following in the footsteps of his father, C. “Tab” Murphy, who held the same county post from 1945 to 1968. I was a new reporter at The Daily World in Aberdeen, assigned to the county courthouse beat.

Murphy and most of the other elected officials in the grand old Montesano courthouse had open-door policies and didn’t seem to mind a reporter snooping around.

“The most important thing was that everybody got along,” former Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Curt Janhunen recalled Sunday. “We had nothing to hide.”

Murphy quickly carved out a strong, critical position toward the Washington Public Power Supply System and its attempt to build two nuclear power plants on Fuller Hill, just a short distance from Elma. I assumed the nuke beat in 1979, which is about when things started to unravel for the consortium of public utilities.

Throughout the early 1980s, WPPSS’ mismanagement, cost overruns, schedule delays and the growing public opposition to the projects’ billions of dollars of debt was the top story in the Pacific Northwest. I had a front row seat in the newsroom of a small daily newspaper in Aberdeen, and Murphy had his own special vantage point from the courthouse. We both maintained a watchful, critical eye on WPPSS and the two Satsop plants.

One of my favorite WPPSS stories goes like this: In the summer of 1981, as a construction stoppage loomed at Satsop Project 5, WPPSS was determined to finish a nearly 500-foot-tall cooling tower, even though it had yet to pierce the tree line. Murphy and other WPPSS critics viewed the cooling tower as a colossal white elephant that would mar the rural skyline for decades to come.

“If the people in east county had their way, they would want the cooling tower stopped now,” Murphy told me at the time. Murphy was already on the record opposed to completion of both plants, a position that prevailed when WPPSS pulled the plug on Project 5 in early 1982, but not before the cooling tower was topped off. Eighteen months later, WPPSS ran out of money and halted work on Project 3. By then, the budget was $23.9 billion to finish all five plants at Satsop and Hanford. That was then twice as much as the state’s biennial budget.

In 1984, I took a job at The Olympian. Murphy, a Democrat, made two unsuccessful runs for state lands commissioner. He instead went on to chair the state Liquor Control Board and serve 18 years as the local government liaison for the State Auditor’s Office.

He always called me “J.D.,” a nickname he continued to use as recently as our last encounter eight weeks ago. By then, he was no longer a news source, but something better — a friend. I called him by his own nickname, “Murph.”

“Murph, how’s your ticker?” I asked, fully aware that the two of us shared a genetic predisposition to heart disease. He smiled his crooked grin and said he was feeling OK. Even if that wasn’t the case, I don’t think he would burden too many people with his health problems.

He was more inclined to help people through their own challenges, whether it was political or more of a personal health issue, noted former Thurston County Commissioner Les Eldridge, a cancer survivor of more than 20 years.

“When I first ran for county commissioner in 1982, Mike took me under his wing,” Eldridge said. “And in 1993, when I was sick and throwing up six times a day, he’d come visit me at least twice a week, telling jokes and trying to cheer me up.”

“Mike inspired people to be the best that they could be,” Cheryl Duryea, his wife and best friend the past 30 years, said at the Sunday Irish wake in his memory. “He loved life, and he was grateful for a wonderful life.”

Bill Vogler, a former Grays Harbor County commissioner whom Murphy persuaded to run for public office, summed it up Sunday for most of us:

“Mike was my best friend, and he was your best friend. What better thing can you say about someone?”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

jdodge@theolympian.com

 

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