Photo: Jeff Riedel for The New York Times
David Murdock, the Vibrant, Healthy 87 year old Chairman of Dole
"Because many cancers have environmental links and the one she got didn't run in her family, he suspects that lifestyle was a culprit, and is convinced that if the two of them had eaten better sooner, she would have been spared the surgery, the radiation, chemotherapy, the wheelchair, the year and a half of hope and fear and pain." Frank Bruni, NYT Magazine
"If I had known what I know today I could have saved my wife's life. And I think I could have saved my mother's life too." David H. Murdock
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Don't miss this Sunday's New York Time's Magazine story, "The Billionaire Who Is Planning His 125th Birthday," by Frank Bruni. It's a not-to-be-missed delightful & inspiring pleasure to read--for healthy food lovers. This post is only a summary.
It's all about Dole's (the fruit company) chairman, the 87 year old David Murdock who is on a mission to make it to his 125th birthday--fueled by healthy food & exercise. You can't help but be inspired by his energy, health, philanthropy, and what his company is serving at their cafeteria--it's all good. This dynamo stands at 5-foot-8-inches and weighs in at 140 pounds.
Murdock's a man to be reckoned with. He's on Forbes' list of the 400 richest American's--no. 130, to be exact--with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, which includes his vast real estate holdings. $4.2 billion before the recession hit.
How Does a Penniless Dyslexic High-School Dropout Become One of the Richest Men in America?
Make no mistake, Murdock came from humble beginnings--a true rags-to-riches story. His dad was a traveling salesman with a shaky income--and his mother took in laundry & scrubbed floors to help the family out.
He was dyslexic, could only manage to make D's in school, was considered an imbecile, and dropped out of high-school. And it gets even worse. After military service he was penniless and homeless.
But through a chance meeting with a loan officer at a greasy spoon, Murdock was able to raise $1200 in loans, and then hit the ground running. He went from building affordable housing, to office building construction, to acquiring International Mining, then Occidental Petroleum, and finally to taking over Dole in 1985.
How does a penniless high-school drop-out go from homeless to billionaire? As Murdock sees it, his lack of formal education turned out to be a gift. He had to overcompensate for his lack of education & that made him an avid voracious reader. And, because he was learning "out of school", he benefited by reading "without the narrowness of focus that he notices in many conventionally learned people."
So, there he now sits, a high school drop-out heading research board meetings where everyone, except him, has either a Ph.D. or an M.D.
The Diet & Health Interest
Murdock's Healthy Food Philanthropy
Murdock's a tell-it-like-it-is champion for the idea that good diet equals good health--and he's putting his money where his mouth is--contributing millions to help fund research on the benefits of diet for disease prevention & reversal.
This includes $500 million to build the North Carolina Research campus near Charlotte, "dedicated to his conviction that plants, eaten in copious quantities and the right variety, hold the promise of optimal health and maximal life span." The Research Campus is a cooperative effort of eight universities all working together for the benefit of health and longevity. These include Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State University, UNC Charlotte, North Carolina Central University, NC A&T State University, UNC Greensboro and Appalachian State University.
The North Carolina Campus now has Mary Ann Lila, a world-renowned blueberry expert, on their staff--lured away from the University of Illinois.
Here's a short-list of what's currently being studied at the NC research facility:
- The benefits of blueberries--they believe that known & unknow compounds in blueberries help combat several diseases, including obesity.
- Quercetin--the anti-inflammatory compound found in apple skins (*I remember reading about NC studies on quercetin last year!)
- Chia seeds--are they as useful a source of omega-3 fatty acids as halibut or salmon? I can't wait to hear the answer to this one!
- A certain type of fermented Chinese tea--can it lower bad cholesterol?
Note: I know what you're thinking--Dole & fruit research?--but you're wrong. Murdock's fortunes aren't tied to Dole--he's got plenty of other business interests. Nutrition is just his mission--not a profit-center.
Murdock's Own Funded "Framingham" Study
It gets even better. Murdock is out to somehow save the world by creating a well-funded study that hopes to enroll 50,000 Kannapolis-area residents (where his NC campus is located), "taking full blood work from them, storing it in a refrigerated warehouse with backup generators and annually monitoring the residents' health." The goal is to "help determine what biological markers today can tell doctors about the onset of disease decades later." Don't worry, the results won't be owned by Dole. Murdock's Mission: to end diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Why Murdock Cares So Much About Food & Health
Murdock's obsession with diet, heath, and longevity comes first from the memory of losing his mother to cancer when she was only 42 and he was 17--but mostly, it comes from the death of his wife--the love of his life--who died of advanced ovarian cancer at age 43 in 1985. During Gabriele's treatment at the Mayo Clinic, Murdock was determined to find a way to heal her. That's where he first began his nutrition research mission--trying to figure out if there was anything Gabriele could eat, or a lifestyle practice, that might make a difference to her disease.
"Because many cancers have environmental links and the one she got didn't run in her family, he suspects that lifestyle was a culprit, and is convinced that if the two of them had eaten better sooner, she would have been spared the surgery, the radiation, chemotherapy, the wheelchair, the year and a half of hope and fear and pain."
"If I had known what I know today I could have saved my wife's life. And I think I could have saved my mother's life too."
Murdock's Personal Diet Transformation
For a few years after losing his wife in 1985, Murdock was in black fog--no energy for anything--including work. And then he got energized--reading everything he could get his hands on in the medical literature--and making friends with top medical and food nutrition experts. He learned from them--and they learned from him. In the late 1980's Murdock finally started on his own health transformation. I guess that put him at 62-64 when he started to eat right.
The Murdock Diet Philosophy
"He doesn't count calories or believe in extreme caloric restriction as a way to extend life. But he does believe that excess weight is a sure way to abbreviate it, and reprimands friends, acquaintances and even strangers who are heavy."
He had no problem telling one of his construction/demolition contractors--who was 5-foot-11 & weighed about 285 pounds, "You're probably going to die before this job's done, because you're so fat and unhealthy, and your family's going to wind up paying extra money for an extra-large coffin!"
At a restaurant, he'll push away the butter dish, and ask the server to, "Take the death off the table!"
What's David Murdock Eating?
1. Lots of fruits & vegetables--all different kinds--including pulverized orange rinds & banana peels--he's all about variety. There's nothing eccentric about eating the rinds--USDA lab experts say that most of the anti-oxidants are in the peels & rinds of fruit. (better make sure they're organic)
2. He drinks a fruit & vegetable smoothie three times a day "to keep his body brimming with fiber & vitamins"
3. No dairy, no poultry, no red meat
4. Protein sources: Beans, nuts, legumes, seafood & fish, and egg whites
5. No alcohol, no sugar, no salt
6. He does use a little olive oil & honey
What Kind of Exercise Is This 87-Year Old Doing?
1. He weight lifts several times a week
2. Brisk walking on a treadmill
3. Working on his five homes (call it functional fitness), which include 500 acres of meadows & woods in North Carolina, a 2,200 acre ranch in California, and a home in Hawaii--and lots of animals to help care for.
How's the Diet & Exercise Working For Him?
1. His doctors say this 87 year old has ideal blood pressure
2. His arteries are clear
3. His muscle tone is good
4. Never has a backache. Never has a headache. Never has anything else.
5. He's careful to get some daily sun exposure--but not too much--because of skin cancer (but a little is all you need)
6. Gets to sleep no later than 11:00 pm--and gets more than six hours of sleep every night
7. He does have some hearing loss.
8. His one questionable belief: he rejects all medicines--took no anesthetic for a precancerous facial growth--no aspirin--no throat lozenges, for him--ever.
Will He Make It to 125?
Dr. Robert Califf, the Duke University cardiologist who is on Murdock's research board, has serious doubts. He thinks Murdock's diet isn't a "provable longevity booster". "But knowing whether eating a food actually causes you to live longer than not eating that food: the answer to that will only come with a study of an entire generation." Who could argue with that one?
Murdock's other doctors say that even though his diet is laudable, he started his "healthful ways" too late--in this 60's--and they think genetics trump lifestyle. Hmm. To that, I'd say, "How many 87 year olds do you see with his kind of good health, vigor, and energy?" Who cares about making it to 125. It's all about staying healthy and vital while you're alive!
A Day in the Life of Murdock's Die-Later Diet
Be sure to check out what David Murdock eats in one day. Looks delicious. Total calories: 1545 (But he's not counting!)
Gorgeous food photos by Dana Hursey. Click here for the photo essay
Breakfast (8-9 a.m.)
Cold whole natural grains with fruit and almond milk, accompanied by an egg-white omelet and a smoothie that includes up to 20 different kinds of fruit and vegetables.
Lunch (1 p.m.)
Vegetable soup (recipe) made from organic vegetable broth, fresh vegetables and fresh herbs; salmon with steamed vegetables and whole grains.
Afternoon Snack (3-4 p.m.)
Crackers with natural peanut butter or almond butter and fresh fruit.
Dinner (6:30-7 p.m.)
A salad dressed with olive oil, accompanied by vegetable soup and white fish with steamed vegetables and grains.
Chocolate cookies made from dark cocoa and walnuts (high in antioxidants) and honey.