Patrick Gordon Forbes Murdoch was born in Toronto on Dec. 26, 1926, to Arthur and Eleanor Murdoch. The youngest of five (after Jack, Betty, Bill and Jane), Pat was only five years old when Arthur was killed in a house fire. Eleanor, whose grandfather founded Toronto’s Cosgrave Brewery, moved the family to St. Clair Avenue, where Pat learned to skate and ski in nearby parks. Summers were spent at a cabin on the Moon River near Bala, Ont., where one of Pat’s first jobs was delivering blocks of ice. He was a bright boy, graduating early from De La Salle College, but also prone to mischief (harnessing himself on his skis to the backs of streetcars) and “breaking hearts earlier than the rest of us” with his “rugged good looks,” says cousin Burke Seitz.
By 1942, most of Pat’s friends were fighting in Europe, and Pat, at 16, was desperate to join them. After being turned away due to his age by the air force and the navy, he signed with the army and served as part of the liberating forces in Holland and Belgium (where brother Jack was killed in 1944). Returning to Canada, Pat worked as a ski instructor in Banff before he met a man who’d won a travelling carnival in a craps game. Pat signed on.
After months of travelling the U.S., Pat landed in California. He bought a cabin right on Malibu Beach, set up a furniture business, and learned to surf. He married Jackie Wetmore, and had two boys and a girl, Larry, Mike and Toni, adding to Jackie’s two, Christopher and Merrily. The large family of “tanned, tow-haired kids” and several dogs was well-known on the beach. Even Hollywood stars were charmed by Pat—Larry remembers Sammy Davis, Jr. taking the kids into town and joking that they should call him dad.
After six years on the beach, Pat heard about a ski area being built on Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There was the promise of plentiful work, but Pat’s third wife, Annie, thinks it was “the snow that was really calling him.” Pat moved the family into a cabin at the base of the mountain, and set about teaching his young children to ski. “We like to say we learned at the ski school of ‘You Better Keep Up,’ ” jokes Toni.
In 1958, Pat moved on to another ski area, on Mount Shasta in northern California, and he and Jackie soon split up. Pat’s second marriage, to Irene Slisky, produced another daughter, Kathleen. He bought “a tar-paper shack” close to the foot of the mountain, says Annie, and built it up into an inn he named Der Wedeln Inn (translation: the Wiggle Inn, a play on a skiing term). “People told us that before he got to Mount Shasta, it was a logging town. After he got there, it was a resort town,” says Larry proudly.
“There was a lot of snow” in the winter of 1960, recalls Annie. “Lots of marriages broke up; we called it the Shasta shuffle.” Irene left Pat, and he started dating Annie, who had recently split from her first husband. “Pretty soon I was madly in love,” says Annie. Annie and her son Chris moved into the inn, and she and Pat ran it until 1968. An avalanche had forced the ski area to relocate, and Pat converted the inn into apartments, renting to many of Shasta’s “free spirits” and giving them a break even when they were behind in their rent, says Larry.
In the early ’70s, Pat made the leap into real estate, opening his own realty company and spending the next two decades developing several large subdivisions; he later became a mentor to other area realtors, guiding them through the development process. His success allowed Pat to earn his pilot’s licence and buy a Cessna, and he would zip off on weekends. But in 2005, early signs of Alzheimer’s began appearing, and Pat was forced to slow down, though he continued to ski Mount Shasta in winters and sail his Hobie cat on Lake Siskiyou in summers.
Last month, severe storms were battering Siskiyou county, and falling trees knocked out power to over 1,000 homes, including Annie and Pat’s. To keep the water pump working for their tenants, the Murdochs set up a generator outside the building. On Jan. 22, unable to sleep, Pat’s son Mike, who was staying in one of the units, got up at 4 a.m. and thought he’d check the gas level on the generator. As he passed near Annie and Pat’s room, he heard a loud thud, and found Annie collapsed on the floor (she doesn’t remember why she was up). Annie and Pat were brought to the hospital, where it was determined they were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning—more than four feet of snow had built up around the generator, which blocked the gas from venting outdoors. Annie was well enough to be released by 6 p.m., but Pat was unable to bounce back from the poisoning. He died at 8 p.m., surrounded by his family. Pat was 83.