Remembering Pete Murdock

Pete Murdock, Ypsilanti’s longest-serving City Council member, and former mayor, passed away several weeks ago at the age of 76. And, ever since, I’ve been struggling with how to talk about his passing here on the site. You see, while I liked Pete quite a bit as a person, he and I also had some pretty serious disagreements over the past few decades. And, every time I sat down to write about his life here, I found myself going off on tangents about historic scandals that predated my having moved to Ypsilanti, and little dust-ups that he and I had gotten into over the years, mostly concerning campaign-related activities that I didn’t agree with. In my attempt to paint an accurate portrait of the man, I lost sight of the bigger picture, which is that this was a man who I knew, who had, like me, chosen this town to be his home, and who had given decades of his life in service to this City that I love. And, really, all the other stuff is secondary. I’m jut sorry it took me a month to figure that out.

When I first heard that Pete had cancer, I was out trick-or-treating with my son and his friends this past Halloween. And, ever since then, I’d been thinking that I should reach out and talk with him. But I just didn’t know how to go about it. I mean, while we were friendly with one another, we weren’t exactly what I’d call friends. I knew him well enough to say hello, but I didn’t really know him. I’d never been to his home, and I didn’t know much about his life outside of City politics. I’d wanted to interview him — about his life, about the circumstances that had brought him here from Boston, about the political battles he’d fought — but, given the context, the idea seemed ghoulish… For what it’s worth, I’ve had these feelings before, with other friends battling terminal illness. I feel as though their stories deserve to be recorded, but the idea of bringing it up, and acknowledging the reality of imminent death, just becomes too much for me. In retrospect, I wish that I had talked with Pete… maybe not for a formal interview, but at least just to say goodbye and thank him for his service to the City… but I just never worked up the courage to do it. And I regret it now. [Our society, by the way, if you haven’t noticed, does a really piss poor job of talking about death.]

Here’s one thing I do know about Pete… He was an old school politician. At least with me — and maybe it was because he didn’t trust me — he never put anything in writing. If I had a question about tax issue before Council, he’d suggest that we meet to talk over beers at the Tap Room. And, if he read something on my site that he took issue with, I’d find him outside my house as I left to go to work, waiting for me in his truck. It’s not the kind of politics that I practice, but I can appreciate why someone might choose to operate that way. And, now that Pete’s gone, I’m sure I’ll begin to miss it.

The first time I can remember meeting Pete was at the Ypsi Senior Center, during a presentation by then Mayor Cheryl Farmer about the state of the City’s finances. Pete had taken a seat next to me, and, during her talk, he kept refuting what she was saying under his breath. And, noticing that I was watching him out of the corner of my eye, he’d occasionally lean over in my direction to explain why he’d just grumbled something. Afterward, someone mentioned to me that he was the former mayor… I was just getting interested in local politics, and I appreciated his passion, even if I didn’t quite understand the exact points he was making at the time.

Pete literally lived and breathed Ypsilanti. Every day, he’d be posting things to Facebook about the minutia of City life, like our municipal trash pickup schedules, and, every night, he’d be in meetings, debating policy. It’s a completely thankless task, and I’m glad to know the there are people like Pete in the world who are drawn to serve their local communities… And I truly think that Ypsilanti is a better place because, back in the ’60s, his car broke down here, and he decided to stay and put down roots. [I don’t know how true it is, but that’s Pete Ypsi origin story as I understand it.]

Pete, among other things, was instrumental in getting Ypsilanti’s municipal recycling system off the ground, and launching the Ypsi Food Co-op. He worked with both the Ypsilanti Tenants’ Union and SOS. He was a friend to organized labor, and an active champion of our parks. In fact, I heard not too long ago that kids in my son’s school had just written to Pete to thank him for the work he’d done to revitalize Prospect Park, where people will be meeting in a few days to celebrate his life. [I can’t imagine a better way to exit this world than receiving letters of thanks from kids, can you?]

This Sunday, June 9, from 2:00 to 4:00, there will be a memorial for Pete Murdock at Ypsilanti’s Prospect Park. As I understand it, the event will kick off with folks volunteering to clean the park in Pete’s memory, and end with ice cream, as people share their memories of him.

[The above photo, taken of Pete in Depot Town, comes courtesy of our friend Doug Coombe.]

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  1. maryd
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    There is a giant hole in the heart of Ypsilanti with him gone. It will never quite be filled.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    When people talk about the distasteful political alliances that Pete entered into, they’re talking about Steve Pierce, right?

  3. EOS
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Great photo of Pete. Praying for Grace.

  4. Frosted Flakes
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    It really is a great photo. It is very sad that Ypsilanti lost such good and dedicated man.

  5. Kim
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    What are the scandals that Mark alludes to?

  6. Frosted Flakes
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 12:59 pm | Permalink


    Thank you for providing us with the great photo of Pete. Our prayers are with his family and friends.

  7. 734
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t here are the time, but I think the scandal being referred to involved Murdock, while he was Mayor, putting things in motion to create a job for himself running the recycling operation. It may have been a big deal in the 80s, but Pete got back on Council, so people apparently forgave him for it. Or maybe they decided that it wasn’t that big of a deal after all. Personally, I think the good outweighed the bad with Pete. He will be missed.

  8. Posted June 3, 2019 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Always good to learn a bit of local history, thank you

  9. Posted June 9, 2019 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I attended Pete’s memorial today. A lot of people turned out for it, and it was really lovely. If I were a better man, I would have hung around and talked with all of his old friends who had shown up for it. Instead, however, I just slunk away, feeling like shit for not having made an effort to know him better. Based on what I heard today, he was a truly interesting man, and I’ll always regret not having taken the time to talk with him — not just about the Ypsilanti budget, but about the stuff that really matters — when he was still with us. I would have loved to have talked with him, among other things, about the early days of SDS, and living here in Ypsi in a house they called The Gutter House. [Do I have that right? They did say their first home in Ypsi was in a house called The Gutter House, right?]

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