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Former county commissioner Mike Murphy dead at 72

Daily World files Mike MurphyBuy Photo
Daily World files Mike Murphy

Former Grays Harbor County Commissioner Mike Murphy, who once had dreams of a statewide public office, has died of an apparent heart attack at his home in the Olympia area.

Murphy, 72, was home on Thursday, June 12 tending to one of his ponds when he fell to the ground, according to former county commissioner Bob Beerbower. An emergency crew responded, but was unable to revive him.

“I went to school with Mike Murphy,” Beerbower said. “We graduated together in Elma. Growing up, we were probably best friends. I stayed at his folks’ all the time when we were in high school. It was a real shock this morning to hear the news.”

A private funeral service was conducted on June 16. A public service will happen at some point in the coming weeks.

For almost two decades, Murphy worked as the local government liasion for the State Auditor’s Office serving under former Auditor Brian Sonntag and, these past couple of years, under Auditor Troy Kelley.

“I offer my condolences and support to Mike’s wife, Cheryl Duryea, their family and all the members of Mike’s ‘other family’ – everyone at the State Auditor’s Office, where Mike has worked for the past 18 years,” Kelley wrote to staff at the Auditor’s Office on Thursday.

Murphy served as a Democratic county commissioner from 1977 to 1988, when he decided to make two unsuccessful bids as a candidate for Commissioner of Public Lands. For a time, he also served as chairman of the State Liquor Control Board.

Kelley notes that Murphy played a key role in the local and national campaigns of a number of Washington political figures, including Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, Booth Gardner and Don Bonker.

He was actually a second generation politician. His father C. Tab Murphy was a Grays Harbor County commissioner from 1945 to 1968.

“Mike always talked about retirement, but could never bring himself to completely leave,” Beerbower said. “He loved it too much. And he was a key part of the state Auditor’s Office, especially under Sonntag. Whenever a port commissioner or county commissioner had an issue, they would always call Mike first.”

Dennis Morrisette of Aberdeen served as sheriff when Murphy was county commissioner.

“I’m just shocked,” Morrisette said. “What a loss. He was just full of charisma. He loved politics and he loved people and I think that’s why he was so successful in government. … He was especially good to Elma, which was his home for so many years. He was a champion of the county fair and he fought hard for improvements at the fairgrounds and for the track that is there now.”

Kelley notes that Murphy was a past president of the Washington State Association of Counties and helped found what would become Venture Bank.