Tacoma pastor wanted to right Tacoma's shameful past

David Murdoch
David Murdoch Courtesy Murdoch family

Tacoma pastor David Murdoch never saw a moral wound he didn't want to heal.

He felt the forced expulsion of Tacoma's Chinese citizens in 1885 was the city's biggest failing. In response, he led efforts to create Tacoma's Chinese Reconciliation Park along the city's waterfront.

The long-time Biblical counselor died Monday. He was 81.

In August 1991, Murdoch petitioned then Mayor Karen Vialle to develop the park.

“We … (as a City) have never publicly apologized for that dark moment when Tacoma’s Chinese community was forced from their waterfront homes,” the petition stated.

The Chinese immigrants were forced from Tacoma by its city leaders. They were loaded into railroad cars and sent out of town.

Tacoma would go on to become infamous for the act, which earned the moniker, “The Tacoma Method.”

In 1991, Murdoch called the event a “moral wound” that had never healed.

“Like a family with a hurting member, there must be a time (and place) of reconciliation and healing,” he said.

Because Chinese families living along Old Town’s waterfront were targeted, Murdoch thought a site in the area would be appropriate.

He looked to the future, a time of increased trade with China. He urged city leaders to heal old wounds so new relationships could flourish.

“Most of all: Our city will have done that which is right,” he said.

That, said his daughter, Laila Terada, exemplified Murdoch’s character.

“If it’s a wrong, he liked to help make it right,” she said Friday. “This needed to be righted. He felt it was something that was hurting the city of Tacoma. It would be a burden on the city. They can’t move past it unless they made (reparations) for it.”

In 1993 the Tacoma City Council set aside the site on Schuster Parkway near N. 30th Street for the park. The park opened in phases from 2010 to 2012.

Today, the 3.9 acre park is a landscaped oasis between Commencement Bay and the railroad tracks. It features a wood-beamed 20-foot-tall "ting" pagoda that was a gift from Tacoma's sister city, Fuzhou, China. The park also has trails, bridges and rock work.

Murdoch was born May 8, 1936, in Alberta, Canada.

After receiving a bachelor of Theology degree and a teachers diploma from Vancouver Bible Institute in 1968, Murdoch moved to Seattle.

More education followed, culminating with a doctorate of Theology from Northgate Graduate School in 1976.

Murdoch eventually entered private practice in the area of personal Biblical counseling — a career he followed for 35 years.

He served as a chaplain with Goodwill in Seattle before moving to Tacoma in 1981 with wife Signy. He pastored at churches in the United States and in Canada. Overseas missions saw him working with churches, orphanages and street children, including in Romania.

“If he saw a need, he was there to help,” Terada said. “Some of those trips were pretty tough.”

Along with Signy and Terada, Murdoch is survived by a son, John, and other family members.

A funeral service and reception for Murdoch will be at 10 a.m. Saturday (April 28) at Lakeview Chapel in Lakewood.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor