Pat Murphy has volunteered at Wellspring for the past 17 years.
“I’ve been here for so long that I’ve noticed children growing up and life changing,” said Pat, who is 82. “It is a wonderful experience.”
She is known for dressing up in eye-catching outfits to celebrate holidays at Wellspring. Like her festive clothes – Pat’s life is far from ordinary.
A California native, she was born in San Rafael and grew up in the Hotel President in Palo Alto and Benjamin Franklin Hotel in San Mateo, where Ginger Rogers once stayed.
Her father started out as a bellboy and worked his way up to hotel manager.
“It was wonderful for my mother – she didn’t have to cook, she didn’t have to wash and she didn’t have to make beds,” Pat said.
“Service was most important and the dining rooms were really elegant,” she added.
“We got to know the staff and the elevator operators,” she said. “They were very good to us and gave us rides up and down for no reason. In the hotel at San Mateo, there was a nice pool. The lifeguard taught us to swim.”
“Kids at school thought it would be wonderful to live in a hotel,” Pat said.
Life in a hotel was less than glamourous, however. There were strict rules to be obeyed. Pat and her sister had to be very quiet so they would not disturb the other hotel guests.
“When we were little, my mother would spend a great deal of time taking us out of the hotel because we were so constrained,” Pat said. “I remember we would go to the park and she’d say, ‘Now, you can scream and yell all you want.’”
Her mother was a public health nurse who worked with the poor in New York City and then as a Red Cross nurse during World War II in San Francisco.
“When we were kids there were choices – teacher, secretary or nurse – and I remember from being very little, people would ask us what we wanted to do and we always said, ‘nurse,’ because of our mother. She was a good nurse.”
After high school, Pat had her sights set on becoming a stewardess for Pan Am – a job she believed would satisfy her thirst for adventure. She studied nursing for three years to gain an advantage in the application process. True to her roots, though, she fell in love with nursing and became a surgical nurse.
“I think it was more me,” Pat said.
She married when she was 21 and lived for two years in Japan, where her husband was stationed in the Navy. There, she gave birth to her first of five children.
What have you learned as you have gone through life?
“The prominent thing in my life has been my church and my faith – that guides my whole life,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate. I married my husband. I had five children. I lost two sons with muscular dystrophy, but, you know, you learn a lot going through all those trials. I’m blessed with six granddaughters and one grandson and three great-grandchildren, so that’s been good.”
Pat served as staunch advocate for her sons with muscular dystrophy.
“My husband was in the Forest Service. We moved every four years and it seemed like every time we moved, there was a need for special education,” Pat said.
“They were in the orthopedically handicapped classes and one place didn’t even have a program. And because of my boys and me working with them, they developed a program,” she said. “So the boys — even though we lost them when they were 16 and 19 — I think in that short time, it was their mission for me to help make things better for kids who were disabled.”
In addition to volunteering at Wellspring, Pat is active in her church and is a regular visitor at Eskaton Assisted Living facility in Cameron Park.
“I visit people,” she said. “I go say that I am going to visit old people, but probably, they are my age. Eskaton is an assisted living facility and then I go to another place that is a locked area for a memory-care center. I get pleasure in it and you know, you walk in and many of them don’t ever get visitors. As a Catholic, I bring communion to them and it means a lot because otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to get it. As long as I can, I am going to continue to help – I enjoy people.”