Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock was the man nobody here knew before he died in an airplane accident in 1971.
Since his demise, Murdock’s name has become one of the most famous in Vancouver. It is attached to an industrial park at 1115 S.E. 164th Ave., an office building and plaza on Broadway in downtown Vancouver, and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, based in Vancouver.
Murdock, a native of Portland, had lived in Vancouver for at least 12 years before his death, but was a somewhat private person who remained out of the public eye. He had lived in a mansion at 5601 Buena Vista Drive for the last decade of his life, but only his closest neighbors knew it.
Murdock built his fortune as a co-founder of Tektronix with Howard Vollum in 1946. The firm grew to become the world’s largest producer of oscilloscopes and other electronic items.
On Sunday, May 16, 1971, Murdock, then 53, was piloting a seaplane which lost power and overturned in the Columbia River near Maryhill. A companion swam ashore, but the current dragged Murdock beneath the water. His body was never recovered.
Although no trace of the missing man could be found, Murdock was declared legally dead by Clark County Superior Court on June 11, 1971, less than a month after the accident. Murdock’s will was then read, and it was found he had left only token amounts to 17 relatives (Murdock was a bachelor with no immediate relatives), with the remainder of his estate, estimated at more than $80 million, to go into a charitable foundation.
The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust was started in 1975 with assets of more than $90. Today, the trust assets are estimated at more than $200 million, although over the past 14 years more than $100 million has been distributed to nonprofit programs throughout the Northwest.
About 1,200 requests for money from the trust are studied each year by the trust staff, which operates from offices in the M.J. Murdock Executive Plaza, 703 Braodway, Vancouver. Of these, fewer than 10 percent are awarded grants.