Always the thrill-seeker, Joseph Murphy Jr. spent his childhood climbing farmhouse rooftops and scaling grain silos, teetering on the edge until he was forced to retreat back down to safety.
Relatives decided he must not have the natural fear most people experience when placed in dangerous situations. As Murphy grew, so did his daredevil-like stunts. Four toes lost to frostbite and a broken back weren’t enough to keep him from exploring the world, climbing mountains on every continent and skiing to both the South and North Poles.
“He was quite an undaunted individual,” said his wife, Diana. “He described it as an intellectual puzzle. You had some surfaces you wanted to get up, and you had to analyze every aspect to see what route you were going to take and how you were going to accomplish it.”
Murphy applied his adventurer mind-set to his day job as a gifted banker, pioneering fixed-income strategies and stock price analysis, as well as authoring several books. The savvy outdoorsman and Minneapolis media mogul, who was in the first party of Americans to reach the South Pole overland by ski, died Aug. 10. He was 85.
From his small adventures in the Kenwood neighborhood, Murphy’s taste for large-scale expeditions grew. He attended St. Thomas Academy and the Blake School before receiving his undergraduate degree from Princeton in 1952, during the Korean War.
Murphy enlisted in the Army, where he served as a lieutenant in the Second Cavalry in Japan. A friend from Princeton, and Murphy’s co-founder of the school’s Mountaineering Club, joined him for an ascent of the 24,242-foot Istor-o-Nal in Hindukush.
The climb left his toes blackened with frostbite, and the 25-year-old traveled back to Minneapolis to have them amputated. During recovery, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where he met his future wife.
Murphy became the beneficiary of trusts for Minneapolis Tribune stock from Uncles W.F. and F.E. Murphy, who each had run the newspaper before their deaths. Murphy and other descendants rolled the stock into investments such as WTCN radio and later WCCO-TV, building capital and fueling some of his future excursions abroad.
After the birth of his two sons, Murphy taught them to ski at Buck Hill and toted them along on some international adventures. As teenagers, the boys climbed with Murphy in southern Germany on a route too difficult for their skill set. As it got dark and the kids grew progressively more nervous, Murphy cracked jokes to lighten the mood on the way down the mountain.
“He never got flustered,” recalled John Murphy, his youngest son. “He was very calm under pressure.”
Joe Murphy was never afraid to exercise his free speech and took out a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star denouncing the Vietnam War.
“He thought it was wrong, and he was not afraid to stand up, regardless of what the consequences might be,” said Diana Murphy, who became the first female justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Long after Joe Murphy broke his back climbing in the Tetons of Wyoming, he continued leading expeditions into the Himalayas, including on Everest’s deadly North Face. The teams didn’t always reach the summit, but he was never deterred.
“He liked finding things that other people hadn’t done,” said Bruce Atwater, Murphy’s longtime friend and college roommate. “[There was] appeal in thinking your way through a situation that could be dangerous.”
In addition to his wife, Murphy is survived by his sister, Sheila; two sons, Michael and John; and granddaughters Laura and Francis. Services have been held.