Debbie Murdock kept a watchful and caring eye over Portland State University, many say, for more than 14 years. On Sunday, May 4, a clock tower in the Urban Plaza was dedicated to the life of Murdock, the former assistant to the president for Strategic Planning, Public Policy, and Government Relations. Sunday would have been her 53rd birthday.
A memorial for all time
Debbie Murdock kept a watchful and caring eye over Portland State University, many say, for more than 14 years.
On Sunday, May 4, a clock tower in the Urban Plaza was dedicated to the life of Murdock, the former assistant to the president for Strategic Planning, Public Policy, and Government Relations. Sunday would have been her 53rd birthday.
Nearly 100 people–ranging from local, state and national politicians to numerous family and friends–gathered at the Urban Plaza to celebrate Murdock, who died last year. Her family helped unveil a large metal plaque bearing Murdock’s name, which is now placed directly underneath the large clock tower at the Urban Plaza near the cross section of Southwest Sixth Avenue and Montgomery Street.
At the clock tower ceremony, Murdock’s oldest sister, Kathy Bullock, said there should be a sense of joy about the dedication rather than remorse.
“Deb would have wanted us to be happy. She always looked at the brighter side of things,” Bullock said. “This is an unbelievable honor. To see her name on the campus means so much to us as a family. PSU was a major part of her life.”
Murdock suffered a stroke in October 2006 that left her with temporary paralysis, but she was back on the job within months. Over the summer, Murdock fell ill and doctors discovered soft tissue sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Murdock died Aug. 14, just weeks after the cancer was discovered.
Soon after Murdock’s death, many in the PSU community knew something should be done to honor her.
“Deb gave up her time unselfishly to PSU and Oregon,” said Lindsay Desrochers, vice president for Finance and Administration. “I don’t think anyone really considered not doing anything for her. The clock tower was a no-brainer.”
The clock tower was erected about two weeks before the ceremony. George Pernsteiner, the chancellor of the Oregon University System, first noticed it on April 25 from the OUS Office in the Center for Urban Studies.
“She always wanted a tower there. I remember from the very first time we talked about it,” Pernsteiner said. “She thought it would be really symbolic, emblematic of what we need there.”
The Murdock fan club
When she was 8 years old, Murdock and her family moved from her birthplace of Iowa to San Diego, Calif. She soon found a unique way of reaching out to her new neighbors.
Murdock began going door-to-door asking if neighbors would be interested in joining her fan club for a fee of 25 cents per month. By the end of the day, she had collected about $5–practically everyone in the neighborhood had agreed to join.
Once she grew up, her fan club grew, too, said Bullock, her sister.
“PSU was Debbie’s fan club,” she said. “She loved all students and wanted each one of them to have the same equal opportunities for success.”
Murdock spent her entire professional life in public service. She worked as executive director of the Community Coordinated Child Care Council, as a staff associate for the Oregon Community College Association and as assistant director of public policy for the YMCA in Washington, D.C.
Dick Feeney, who worked in government relations briefly after Murdock died, first met Murdock in Salem during his two decades as a lobbyist for TriMet.
They were both there for different agendas, but shared similar passions, he said, for enhancing life in Portland and throughout the state.
When Murdock took a leave of absence from PSU because of her increasing health problems, Feeney felt honored to fill in for her, he said.
“I was not trying to be Deb, no one could,” Feeney said. “I just didn’t want to screw anything up. She was persuasive, optimistic, continually positive and friendly. The perfect person for PSU to have in the fight for education.”
In her honor
At the clock tower dedication, most in attendance, whether they were her family members or politicians, reiterated her passion for PSU and the Portland community and her incessant love for students.
“Portland State was her life,” said Jon Whitwer, Murdock’s nephew. “Most of us live for vacation. She lived for work.”
Whitwer’s mother and Murdock’s sister, Jan Lane, also remembered Murdock’s ferocity and importance.
“Debbie was feisty and authoritative. She knew what she wanted and would not settle until she got exactly what she set out to accomplish,” she said.
Intermixed with family and friends, politicians also came out to reflect and pay respects to a woman who either directly or indirectly touched their lives.
“She bled Viking green,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer. “She did more for PSU than anyone will ever know. I am still learning and hearing stories about her accomplishments. She was always interested in advancing the interests of students on all academic levels.”
Larry Wallack, dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs, spoke of how he was honored to be dedicating the clock tower to Murdock.
“In dedicating this clock tower to Debbie, I am hesitant because I don’t want the clock to become haunted with her spirit,” he said at the dedication. “If she starts haunting that clock, I can guarantee you time will be running faster, urging us to hurry up and better the future of PSU.”
Pernsteiner said the tower is a statement, both architecturally and functionally.
“She thought that said a lot about what PSU was,” Pernsteiner said. “It’s really fitting that it’s being dedicated to her. She did more than anyone else to raise the money for [the Urban Plaza] building.”