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Tribute To Tip Murphy

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 23, 2008

A critique that is often attributed to Oscar Wilde is that “The problem with socialism is that it takes too many evenings.” Well a comparable problem with food safety crises is they take up too many articles.

In the midst of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, a friend of ours in the industry died. We didn’t write about it at the time. Partly because we were doing important work on that crisis and thus we shielded ourselves emotionally lest we cease to function. Partly, we didn’t write the story because we thought the intermingling of it with our daily expositions on Salmonella would be, in the artistic sense of the word, grotesque.

At first we thought we would write about it as soon as the crisis died down. Of course the crisis dragged on and, by the time it was over, it seemed out of place.

Now, however, there is a reason to broach the subject again. We are speaking, of course, of the death of Tip Murphy, at the age of 48, earlier this year.

The short industry biography of Terrence P. Murphy is that he became a force in the industry during 13 years in sales at Chiquita, where he had been assigned a tiny account that had maybe 10 stores. Fortunately it was Wal-Mart and when others walked away, Tip listened to the projections of a man named Bruce Peterson, who many suppliers thought was crazy although he turned out to be prophetic as he told Tip that one day this tiny force in produce would need a boatload of bananas a week. Tip rode that bronco till it accounted for a big portion of Chiquita’s business, and it made Tip what some say was the largest selling salesperson in the history of produce.

Eventually Tip left Chiquita and went to work briefly for Paganini Foods, as we explained here.

At the time of his death Tip was, as we mentioned here, the Division Vice President, Retail Sales for Ready Pac.

When we didn’t write about Tip, we received many “nudges” suggesting we do so. Some came from his co-workers, such as this note:

I always enjoy your comments and spin on things in our great industry.

We at Ready Pac are sad as this week we laid our friend and co-worker Tip Murphy to rest in Cincinnati.

His services were attended by literally hundreds of family, friends, industry folks, and even customers.

As you know he suddenly passed away from a massive heart attach on July 13th while golfing with his friends, and wife, Gretchen.

The services were followed by a great “tail gate” party with an awesome LSU back drop and the celebration of Tip’s life was in full swing.

I know you know the sudden and tragic loss of a friend on a personal note with Joe Nucci, and all of us at Ready Pac who worked with Tip, and those who he touched and “gabbed” non-stop with, will miss him terribly, but not as much as his wife and two daughters.

Just wanted to let you know…

— Scott Harrington
Divisional Vice President
Ready Pac, Inc.
Irwindale, California

Some letters came from friends:

My name is Greg Kurkjian. I am the VP of retail sales at Mann Packing.

I was wondering if you had written anything about the passing of Tip Murphy. Tip was a mentor and friend of mine. I heard some rumblings this week about recognizing Tip at the PMA.

He embodied all the best things about so many people in the produce industry; passion, work ethic, and giving back to the industry. We need to recognize Tip during the upcoming PMA.

— Greg Kurkjian
Vice President Retail Sales
Mann Packing
Salinas, California

Indeed many felt as Greg did. Tip served on the board of directors of PMA from 2005 to 2007 and the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent established the Tip Murphy Legacy Fund.

The official announcement of the fund will come at the PMA convention during the Saturday Morning General session where Tip will be honored. The gist was described by PMAFIT In a press release:

The goal of the fund is to build a permanent endowment of $250,000 by 2012 to fund scholarships in perpetuity, according to PMA FIT Executive Director Cindy Seel. A limited number of scholarships will be granted while the endowment is being raised.

Scholarships will enable recipients’ participation at current and future PMA and foundation leadership development programs, such as PMA’s annual Leadership Symposium. Scholarship applications will be reviewed by an advisory board now being established.

The Pundit was honored to be asked to serve on the advisory board along with Todd Melton of Chiquita, Scott Owens of Paramount Citrus, Bruce Peterson of Naturipe Farms, Bill Schuler of Castellini Company, Bob Spence of Ready Pac and Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting Services. Tip’s widow, Gretchen, will be involved as well and Dan’l Mackey Almy of DMA-Solutions and the PMA FIT staff, especially PMA FIT’s Executive Director, Cindy Seel, have facilitated the effort.

Foundational grants were received from Castellini, Chiquita, Naturipe Farms, Paramount Citrus and Ready Pac.

We’re not quite in the financial league of any of these fine organizations. We would, however, like to do our part to both honor Tip and support this worthy cause. So the Pundit is donating $1,000 to the Tip Murphy Scholarship Fund.

If you or your company would like to donate, you can send an e-mail to Cindy Seel right here.

Before we sign off on this one, we would like to share a little happiness and a little sadness about Tip and our relationship with him that maybe can help everyone live a little better life.

We had known Tip for many years, but our friendship took to a different level when Tip left Chiquita and was looking for a job and reevaluating his life. We spent a few hours together at the PMA convention in 2006 and talked for a long time about what mattered in life, about family and friends and career. After the convention, Tip sent us a note telling us how so many people in the industry had been so kind:

I wanted to send you a short note to thank you for your comments to me at PMA about my situation. I very much appreciate all of the support in this phenomenal industry… it is truly a testimonial to the great people and great relationships in the Produce Industry!… Thanks again for your interest in me… I truly appreciate it!!

The little happiness we can share is that we are so glad we spent the time to sit down and try to be a friend to Tip. Concern for another person manifests itself in a richer and more rewarding relationship. We are plenty busy at PMA and really had no time for that discussion yet making the time resulted in an acquaintance becoming a friend and thus was one of the most rewarding decisions one can make in life.

Now here is the sadness. In December of 2006, after Tip had accepted a position with Paganini Foods, Tip invited the Pundit to travel with him to Sicily in January 2007. Nominally the trip was to visit citrus growers, but Tip had laid out a great opportunity to have fun and become better friends.

We didn’t go on the trip. Can’t even remember why — basically there was office stuff and work and not wanting to be away from home. We left it that we would make a point to do it in the future.

We never did. And now we can’t.

There is surely a lesson there for everyone.

You can make a pledge to the Tip Murphy Legacy Fund by sending an e-mail here.

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