Obituary: Thomas Paul Murphy; investor gave funds, time to S.D. … – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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He saw success as a business writer and venture capitalist and spent time working to stop the “French Connection” of drugs from France to the United States, but Thomas Paul Murphy made his mark in San Diego as a philanthropist who used his ideas and his money to help improve the community.

Mr. Murphy was deeply involved with the San Diego Foundation and sponsored research projects done by local college students to come up with the most efficient solutions to social problems.

He died Jan. 6 of natural causes at his La Jolla home. He was 81.

Mr. Murphy devoted much of his time, energy and money to philanthropy when he retired to La Jolla in 1985 for health reasons after a career that also included advertising, writing a book on entrepreneurship, penning a regular column for Forbes magazine and working as special assistant to Arthur Watson, president of IBM World Trade Corp.

When Watson became U.S. ambassador to France in 1970, Mr. Murphy accompanied him as his special assistant and helped create an anti-drug program to battle the French drug underworld. At that time, President Richard Nixon was concerned about the flow of heroin from Turkey to Marseille, France, for processing and ultimately to the United States.

Mr. Murphy’s daughter Victoria Barret said his time in Paris may have been the highlight of his career. “He knew he was making headway busting the flow of drugs when his Mercedes was sabotaged and his apartment ransacked,” she said.

After leaving France, Mr. Murphy returned to the United States in 1973 and founded a venture-capital firm called Partnership Dankist. In 1983, he co-founded a second venture business, which grew to nearly $1 billion in capital before ill health from lung cancer forced him to resign.

When Mr. Murphy moved to La Jolla, he brought the best strategic thinking from the private sector to the philanthropic community in San Diego, said Rebecca Reichmann Tavares of the local philanthropic consulting firm Tavares Associates.

“He had a very intellectual approach to philanthropy,” said Reichmann Tavares, formerly of the San Diego Foundation.

Mr. Murphy advocated identifying and targeting gatekeepers such as lawyers and financial planners who worked for potential donors. “He knew there were people who wanted to be philanthropists,” Reichmann Tavares said.

Bob Kelly, San Diego Foundation president, described Mr. Murphy as quiet about his contributions but passionate about using research to address community problems. “He loved looking at research to understand complex social problems. He really wanted to make a difference,” Kelly said.

Mr. Murphy was a founding member of the foundation’s Health and Human Services Working Group, and he established the Tom Murphy Fellowship Program.

He also contributed to The Bishop’s School and was a member of the San Diego Yacht Club.

Mr. Murphy was born May 22, 1927, in Evanston, Ill., to Thomas Ritter Murphy and Doris Ambler Murphy. He grew up in Iowa as the only child of a widow. He earned a degree in journalism from the University of Iowa in 1947 and later an MBA from Harvard.

He married the former Marcia Miller of New York in 1958. The couple had a daughter before she died in 1965. He also had a daughter with his second wife, Viviane, a countess from Brussels, Belgium, who died in 1990.

Mr. Murphy is survived by his daughters, Ellen Freeman of Marin County and Victoria Barret of San Francisco, and three grandchildren.

Services were held in Iowa.

Donations can be made to the Thomas Murphy Fund at the San Diego Foundation, which sponsors graduate-level research on positive change.

Blanca Gonzalez: (760) 737-7576;
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