William O. Murtagh, 1927-2013: Executive ran business with imagination

William Murtagh.
William Murtagh.

William O. Murtagh, 85, whose sense of purpose and imagination helped propel his family’s businesses, died Monday in his Ottawa Hills home.

He was in declining health for several years, but until last week attended the every-Wednesday luncheon of friends from Central Catholic High School, family members said.

Mr. Murtagh was an executive, as was his late brother, James, in the enterprises that flowed from the plating business their Irish immigrant grandfather James Gerity founded in 1896 in Toledo. James Gerity, Jr., and John Schultz started Gerity-Schultz, and it grew into a major supplier to the auto industry. Mr. Murtagh early in his career worked for Adrian-based Gerity-Michigan Corp.

After James Gerity, Jr., died in 1973, Mr. Murtagh and his brother shared management of the family’s industrial concerns, but also its broadcast and cable companies; weekly newspaper, and travel agencies.

“He recognized that [employees] and their families were dependent on the success of the company so they could educate their children and have groceries and live,” his son Bill said. “He felt a sense of responsibility for that.”

Gerity Products made plated home and gift items. As a University of Notre Dame student, Mr. Murtagh made his own distinctive Notre Dame-themed ashtrays, which he sold dorm room to dorm room. He later designed memorabilia for three Notre Dame football coaches, which Gerity Products made.

He traveled the country and the world, representing Gerity products and services. When his children became interested in swimming, he helped sell a young coach from California, Ron Ballatore — known later for his work with Olympians — on coming to coach at the Toledo Club and then St. Francis de Sales High School.

Mr. Murtagh “gave us the sense of, we could accomplish whatever we wanted,” son Dan said. “A lot of his examples in life showed us that was possible.”

He was born April 5, 1927, to Alma and Owen Murtagh. He worked at his father’s grocery store through his teens. When he and his wife, Joanne, started dating, “she would always have to wait until the grocery store closed before they would go and have a social life,” daughter Molly said. “Someone once said Dad didn’t feel he worked a full day until he worked 12 hours.”

He was a 1944 graduate of Central Catholic, where he played tackle on the football team. He was a Navy veteran of World War II and served stateside. He was a 1949 Notre Dame graduate and attended most home football games thereafter.

He was a 65-year member of the Toledo Club and the Inverness Club. For all the hard work, he had a playful side. When he was St. Patrick’s Day chairman at the Toledo Club “he would turn the whole club green,” daughter Molly said. “You could count on Dad to have a great time and make it fun for everybody.”

He was a golfer and a painter.

“He had an inherent imagination,” son Dan said. “He imagined things that weren’t. He had this innate ability to see things and make it happen, through manufacturing and artwork.”

He was a former president of the Notre Dame Club of Toledo.

Surviving are his wife, Joanne Murtagh, whom he married April 14, 1951; sons, Dr. William, Jr., and Dr. Daniel Murtagh; daughters, Molly Meyers and Dr. Jennifer Murtagh; sister, Eileen Korhumel; 12 grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 3 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Walker Funeral Home. Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Gesu Church, where he was a longtime member.

The family suggests tributes to Central Catholic High School or the Northwest Ohio Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.