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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane contractor remembered as friend to business, community

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 26, 2018

Murphy (Kimberly Akins)
Murphy (Kimberly Akins)
By Samantha Malott The Spokesman-Review

With his 80 years in business, contractor William Oscar Murphy left a lasting impression beyond helping build the Spokane community – he truly supported its people.

From contributions to the city, such as working to secure bonding for Expo ’74, to the donation of Thornton Murphy Park in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood and his long-standing work with the Ronald McDonald House and Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, Murphy was “a great believer in Spokane,” said longtime friend Bill Davis.

Murphy, known to those close to him as Bill, was born Jan. 15, 1919, in Spokane. He died Jan. 13, two days shy of his 99th birthday.

Tim Hurley, a Murphy Bros. Construction employee for 45 years, remembered that Murphy was always supportive of other companies, even his competition.

“He liked to see young companies and businesses grow,” said Hurley, who retired Oct. 1. “He didn’t like to see failure even in his competitors.

“He was probably one of the most respected guys in the business,” he said. “He could be real tough at times and be real generous at other times. He had a good personality for construction.”

Murphy was the first president of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors in 1965, serving as a strong advocate for the industry and as a mentor for many others.

Murphy and his brother, Thornton, founded Murphy Bros. Construction in 1937, soon after their graduation from Lewis and Clark High School. The company’s motto: “We move the earth.”

In 1941, Murphy volunteered for the Army Air Corps and was assigned to a mechanics instructor post in the Philippines. Upon returning home, he and Thornton started where they had left off, eventually becoming one of the 100 largest construction companies in the U.S.

Following Thornton’s unexpected death in 1967, Murphy took full control of the company, which grew to have offices in Seattle and California for a period of time.

Murphy Bros. Construction has primarily focused on highway work and city projects. Some of the company’s better known projects include the Lincoln Heights Bypass, the portion of North Washington Street and overpass at the Spokane River, completing eight of the nearly 30 projects involving the city’s Combined Sewer Overflow installations – including the first and last.

According to longtime friend Davis, the business ran into financial trouble in the late ’60s, but with trust instilled in him by his employees, Murphy was able to secure backing from a bank and bond companies, allowing him to rebuild.

“They said ‘We’re with ya,’ ” Davis said. “His love was to be out in the field running the work, so (his employees) knew him and he knew them, and they trusted him.”

For all the money Murphy had later in life, Davis said, he lived in the same house for 30 years.

“A lot of contractors want the fancy life, and he would have none of that. He was a very humble human being,” he said.

Davis, who works for PayneWest Insurance, first met Murphy in 1972 while handling the Northwest region for a surety bonding company in San Francisco. The business relationship quickly turned into a friendship, he said.

Davis recalled one of his favorite memories of his friend. Following a job-site accident that involved Murphy’s son, George, the three would get together every Friday at 4 p.m. to talk about life while they enjoyed a “Murphy special” – a very watered down Irish whiskey.

“I spent more time with him talking like that than doing his business,” Davis said.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Saturdayat Hennessey Funeral Home. A private interment with family will follow.

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