Saying farewell to one of city’s true characters
The late Carson City and Reno businessman Roger Murdock, who died earlier this month at 73, was a unique character – one of a kind. He could be kind, generous, goofy and exasperating, or all of the above. I’ll miss him and his infectious enthusiasm for life and sports, and so will his many friends in our town.
Before I attended Roger’s memorial service in Reno last weekend, I had never heard a college fight song played as part of the program. But as they played the Michigan fight song last weekend, somehow it seemed appropriate. My friend Roger was the ultimate sports fan, and if there was a worse sport than me in 1960s Carson City, it was him. Although neither of us was a great athlete (and that’s putting it mildly), both of us loved to win, and we went head-to-head at town team basketball and softball games.
I met Roger and the Murdock’s department store gang shortly after moving to Carson in January 1962 to become Associated Press capitol correspondent. The four-member capitol press corps (Cy Ryan, Guy Shipler, Bob Smith and me) would have coffee with politicians at the Lucky Spur, which was next door to Murdock’s. We always knew whether Roger was there because we could hear him before we saw him.
“Guy Farmer!” he would bellow. “Why are you writing those nasty things about (fill in the blank)?”
“Because he deserves it,” I’d reply. And that was that.
Roger had an insatiable appetite for political and sports news, not necessarily in that order. He was endlessly curious about the inner workings of local and state government and later, when I returned to Carson on “home leave,” he’d grill me about the political situation in the country where I was serving at the time. I always enjoyed those discussions and marveled at the amount of information that Roger was able to absorb. He’d always announce our arrival in the store at the top of his lungs, which was a mixed blessing.
As a certified sports nut, Roger followed high school and college sports in Northern Nevada and around the nation. I guess that’s where the Michigan fight song came from. Of course he loved the University of Nevada Wolf Pack, but he also carried on a lifelong love affair with the Boston Celtics and many other teams. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that he had attended the annual Rose Bowl game in Pasadena for 30 straight years.
When we (Morris Motors) competed against Murdock’s championship teams in the 1960s, he screamed like a banshee at us and at his own players. As one of his former players noted at the memorial service, “Roger drove everyone crazy, the opposition and his own teammates.” Like some political columnists, he was an equal opportunity offender.
But there was another, softer side to Roger that not everyone knows about. It took me a while to discover that side of him; it happened after my late wife Consuelo went to work for him in 1964 or 1965. Roger was a gentleman at all times even though he frequently threw clothing into the dressing rooms – men’s and women’s alike – in an effort to make sure that no one walked out of his store empty-handed. Needless to say, that practice didn’t exactly endear him to some of his female customers.
Another of Roger’s most endearing qualities (but not to his bookkeeper, Anne Long) was to reduce posted prices in order to move the merchandise. For example, if you were looking at a $20 shirt but didn’t buy it immediately, he’d shout out ever-lowering prices – $15, $10, $5, $2.50 – until you’d buy the damn thing just to shut him up.
Not only was Roger a kind and considerate boss when my wife worked for him, he helped us to bring her teenaged nephew, Rodolfo Flores, to Carson from Mexico City on a work visa. Rodolfo worked as a Murdock’s stock boy and it was the experience of a lifetime for “Rudy-Rudy,” as he was affectionately known.
Roger’s longtime right-hand man, Bob Tresnit, gave Rodolfo his nickname and both he and Roger supplied the young Mexican boy with a crash course in colloquial American English. On occasion, we were surprised, and even shocked, by Rudy-Rudy’s ever expanding vocabulary in his new language. But seriously, English was the gateway to a better life for Rodolfo when he returned home after an exciting year in “Gringolandia.” And to this day he fondly remembers his American friends, Bob and Roger.
I had a loveÐhate relationship with Tresnit, who was at the memorial service. I thanked him for his many kindnesses to Consuelo and Rodolfo, and ragged on him for striking me out 25 or 30 straight times on the softball diamond way back when. Tresnit was the ace pitcher for Murdock’s softball team and he was almost impossible to hit – for me, at least. He was the Rapid Robert (Feller, that is) of Carson City.
The Reno memorial service was like a “Who’s Who” of old Carson City. Those present included Tresnit, Mayor Marv Teixeira, former Mayor Jim Robertson, John Borda and Roland Westergaard, among others. After the service I was chatting with Mayor Marv, who recalled that when we went downtown in the 1960s we were headed for one of two places, Murdock’s or the Nugget. And when Roger opened his new store in the mid-1960s – which featured a fully stocked bar and Duke Moose’s barber shop – the whole town turned out for the grand opening, a gala event complete with a band and free barbecue.
In later years, Roger sold clothing and rented tuxedos out of a strip mall storefront on North Carson Street. I didn’t drop in as often as I should have and as I listened to the Michigan fight song last weekend, I knew I was saying goodbye to one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever met. So long, Roger. We’ll miss you.
n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, has been a Carson City resident since 1962.