Irish pub owner gives back to the community

It was a typical day at Murphy’s Bar & Grill in the early 1990s. And yet something happened to owner Don Murphy that day that, in essence, changed his life.

He noticed a young boy, perhaps 9 or 10, on the street corner with a man he surmised was the boy’s relative. They were holding a sign asking for help to get the boy, who had cancer, to California for treatment.

Murphy had just returned from a vacation and thought to himself, “This is ridiculous.” He was spurred to action, putting together a quick fund-raiser that raised about $1,500.

The word got out. And Murphy didn’t mind. He has earned a reputation for the functions he has held for others in need. Only now, that $1,500 seems like a pittance. But, of course, Murphy has more time to plan his events.

“I get a good feeling when I can help somebody,” says Murphy, who has solid backing from his wife, Marion Elniski. “The kids really get to you.”

There was another cancer patient several years later. Someone affiliated with the person called Murphy and asked if they could hold a party on a Sunday. Murphy promised to contribute part of the proceeds, which totaled between $18,000 and $20,000 and helped defray the medical costs.

“We do about three or four of them a year,” Murphy says. Some, however, get to him more than others. There was the girl from Ireland several years ago. She was 15- or 16-years old, Murphy estimates. She was visiting Hawaii on the Big Island when she was in a car accident, and she lost both legs. Murphy read about it in the newspaper and called the girl’s family to say he wanted to help out.

He secured the services of a popular Irish band and the function raised nearly $20,000, which helped the girl afford treatment at a prosthetics clinic in Florida.

“She was very shy and overwhelmed,” Murphy says. “But she was Irish like I am, and I wanted to do something. One of the wonderful things about Hawaii is that the people are so giving. It’s nothing for them to get on board for someone in need.

“My wife and I are fortunate. She has been totally supportive. The quilt work she has done over the years has helped raise more than $100,000.”

Murphy was born in St. Louis, and grew up in Oklahoma City. After college, he moved to the West Coast. He managed commercial properties and eventually worked for a venture capitalist. When that individual bought commercial property in Hawaii, Murphy visited often during a five-year period before re-locating himself in 1986.

He purchased the Royal Hawaiian Saloon and renamed it Murphy’s. In November, the restaurant/bar, which can seat 140, will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

One of Murphy’s annual ventures is the Pigskin Pigout, an event that has raised more than $1 million in the years it has been held to benefit the University of Hawaii football program. Murphy felt especially compelled to help the team in its early seasons,

“I just decided I wanted to get involved with the football program,” Murphy says. “A new coach (Fred von Appen) had just come into town and they didn’t even have a training room for the players to eat.

“We held a silent auction. That first year we raised between $15,000 and $18,000. This past year it was $156,000.”

It has become a labor of love for Murphy and his wife. “One of the best things about it is it gives us an opportunity to let people who wouldn’t normally be involved get involved in a lot of different things,” Murphy says. “We take things that are fun and are able to help people out.”

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