Healthy living, learning drive David Murdock
David Murdock's thirst for knowledge is about equal to his quest for longevity. And both passions have taken root at the 350-acre North Carolina Research Campus. "You have to use your brain. I'm going to live to be 100 because I'm going to try my very best," says Murdock. The trim 85-year old tries by eating a fish and vegetable diet. And he thinks everyone else should eat healthy. He says, "I say, 'Well then, why do you have a belly that sticks out that way, and it's ugly!' I lose a few friends that way. But if you shock people enough, I have a lot of people come back and say, 'You know what, you embarrassed me so bad that I lost 10 lb and I'm going to lose another 25.'" Murdock is obsessed with good eating as a preventive measure against major disease. This month he was on the Martha Stewart show extolling the benefits of fruits and vegetables. Murdock didn't always live this philosophy. His wife died of cancer in 1985 and that changed his life. Murdock did more than change his diet. He also funded the study of a cancer drug that's now in the third phase and invested in a high end health spa. But the crown jewel of his efforts is the research campus in Kannapolis. At last month's opening of the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory, he said, "I first realized the need for scientific collection of people that could be put together to cross-fertilize ideas that have never been seen before and to continue working on the invisible and doing the impossible." Murdock dropped out of ninth grade after struggling with dyslexia, and was drafted into the Army. After World War II, he didn't have any family to return to. "So I was sleeping under a bush in the park, for one time five days, without anything to eat, without any money, without any education and without anything to look forward to. I guess that was the first thing. necessity is the mother of invention," says Murdock. He took out an $1,800 loan, bought a diner and sold it for a small profit. And so began a long career in real estate. It's hard to tell how much Murdock's holdings are worth because his companies are all private. In October, Forbes estimated his worth at about four and a $4.5 billion. Murdock's highest profile company is Dole Foods in California. He has several houses around the country including a 12-bedroom estate outside Kannapolis he calls a "lodge." Murdock came to the area in the early 80's. He bought Cannon Mills. Shortly after the takeover, he quelled efforts to unionize and sold off the plan after promising he wouldn't then left town. He would later settle a lawsuit with Cannon workers that accused him of investing their pensions in a failed company. Then he resurfaced, after Pillowtex- the last owner of the mill- went bankrupt in 2003. Murdock paid more than six million dollars for the old mill site, then announced plans for the research campus. "Doing something that's big and exciting, is big and exciting! I like the excitement of business. I love business. Most of the things I do I do because I wanna do it. I've never had a boss in my whole life," he says. For all his experience, Murdock says there's still so much to learn. He says, "I feel my brain is much smarter everyday than it was yesterday, but much less than it will be tomorrow. So I think tomorrow is a new day for new learning." One of his mantras is "knowledge is power." And you get the sense that he's compensating for his incomplete education by reading with an insatiable appetite. "Plato, Aristotle, I love reading those. Socrates. They're wonderful people from way back in time. I read the Sanskrit and so forth. When people leave school, they say, I'm done. Well, I never finished school, so I say I'm not done!" he exclaims. Today, Murdock reads daily for two hours in the morning and then before bed. He has a passion for poetry and produced a CD of his recitations as a holiday gift for friends. On the disc he recites from Invictus by William Ernest Henley. But it seems more like David Murdock is talking about himself.