Talk about low profile.
Mention M.J. Murdock in Alaska and you might get a blank stare. Or confusion with that other Murdoch, media mogul Rupert.
Yet since 1975, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has given nearly $36 million to Alaska organizations as diverse as the Kodiak Baptist Mission, the Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment in Copper Center, and the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.
Many private Outside foundations that regularly make grants in Alaska focus on conservation and the environment. Yet scanning the list of M.J. Murdock grant recipients – in Alaska, alone – defies categorizing. There are religious organizations, science and technology, health and human services, even support for philanthropy.
The Trust began operations in 1975 with assets of $91 million. Its assets have grown to nearly $800 million and more than $690 million has been given out in grant awards. The Murdock Trust ranks among the top five largest private foundations in the Pacific Northwest and one of the top 100 in the country. It is one of the only foundations headquartered in the Pacific Northwest that regularly awards grants in a five-state region, although some grants are awarded for national purposes.
So who was M.J. Murdock?
M.J. (Jack) Murdock was an innovative, entrepreneurial leader with business involvements and interests throughout the Pacific Northwest. His wealth came from Tektronix, an electrical engineering technology firm he co-founded in 1946 in Beaverton, Ore. Tektronix was the first high-tech company in the Pacific Northwest and at one time was the largest private employer in Oregon. Tektronix was responsible for major advances in the oscilloscope, a key building block for all future electronics.
A radio buff from childhood, Jack Murdock had an early and prescient interest in both “making inventions” (as he predicted in his 1934 autobiography written at the ripe age of 16) and in people. In the words of one friend, Jack wanted to “harness a person’s natural rhythms and creativity;” to capture human motivation. He was an early proponent of letting employees set their own schedules as a way to liberate creative talent. See a speech he gave on this topic titled “Work and Human Satisfaction” here.
Murdock once operated a Piper aircraft distributorship for the Pacific Northwest. His favorite aircraft was the Piper Super Cub, and planes he was connected to are still flying in Alaska today. It’s the Piper distribution footprint that was selected by the original Murdock trustees as their grantmaking geography.
The Trust website describes Murdock as “an idealist and a realist and a life-long seeker of new insights. He believed in science as a main source of knowledge, and knowledge as a key ingredient to addressing and solving the issues and challenges of our world. He was thoroughly unpretentious, soft-spoken, and a listener. He possessed a rare combination of good judgment, hard work, tolerance, life-long learning, and scrupulous honesty.”
Toward that end, the Murdock Trust seeks to enrich the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest by providing grants and enrichment programs to non-profit organizations that seek to strengthen the region’s educational, spiritual, and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways.
The Murdock Foundation is a reflection of Jack’s personality and its trustees have been vigilant about managing it as an extension of his life. For a peek at that life, watch “Jack Murdock – A Life Well Lived.”
For more about the M.J. Murdock Trust, check out a recent newspaper article from Vancouver, Wash., where the Trust is based.
Alaska and Alaskans should count their blessings for the generosity; the magnanimity of this low-profile friend we never knew.