84-year-old billionaire can demand a lot, but Safrit delivers
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó When David H. Murdock comes to town, Lynne Scott Safrit’s complicated life takes on a singular focus.
Murdock is rarely seen in North Carolina without Safrit. The California billionaire spends about one week here each month, personally handling many details of the N.C. Research Campus development.
Safrit arrives at Pity Sake Lodge before Murdock comes downstairs for breakfast at 7:30. She leaves after he goes to bed, around 10 p.m.
When the lodge is full of guests, evenings at Pity Sake often include boisterous singalongs around the grand piano that can go on until midnight. Safrit joins in.
Murdock, who turns 85 next month, does not take a nap.
“He works harder than anybody I know,” Safrit said. “He is a good motivator and inspiration for me.”
Sometimes Murdock and Safrit seem like business associates. Sometimes they seem like father and daughter. Sometimes, like old friends.
Safrit serves as Murdock’s sounding board, confidant, cheerleader and chauffeur. She keeps him organized, on time and in touch.
A talented piano player, Safrit is even his accompanist on occasion.
But Murdock is always in charge.
“He is clearly the boss, but he also listens to her in a very substantial way,” N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell said. “He respects her opinion.”
Murdock, ranked by Forbes as one of the wealthiest men in the world, is notoriously demanding. Safrit’s husband, Wally, joked that while Murdock has contributed much to the city, the best thing about his wife working for Murdock is that Murdock is 2,000 miles away.
“He can be very challenging,” said Wally Safrit, the city attorney for Kannapolis. “His expectations can be very high.”
Lynne Scott Safrit serves as president for Castle & Cooke North Carolina and Atlantic American Properties, both owned by Murdock. She also directs development of the Research Campus.
“Many people work for him for a short number of years, and then they’re gone,” said Richard Anderson, a Kannapolis city councilman who worked for Murdock at Cannon Mills. “For Lynne to handle his pressure and get the job done is a testament to her abilities.”
In North Carolina, few people get to Murdock without going through Safrit first.
Research Campus organizers who want to pitch ideas to Murdock have found Safrit’s advice regarding her sometimes cantankerous employer to be invaluable.
“She is like a translator and handler all in one,” said Victoria Christian, chief operating officer for Duke University’s longterm medical study named for Murdock. “Her understanding of his vision and the way he thinks is so complete that without her, it’s nearly impossible.”
On the other hand, when Safrit has a big potential tenant who needs a nudge, she often uses Murdock as a recruitment tool. His enthusiasm for the Research Campus is infectious, she said.
Safrit’s 26-year association with Murdock can make her a target for criticism. Some people in Kannapolis are still unhappy with how Murdock handled the sale of Cannon Mills in 1986 and how he conducts business today.
“The average person on the street might say she’s his henchman,” Anderson said. “I don’t see it like that at all.”
Some believe Safrit is successful only because of Murdock.
“But Lynne would have gotten ahead in life no matter what job she pursued,” said Anderson, who’s known Safrit since she was a child. “We should all be proud of Lynne and what she has accomplished.”
Contact Emily Ford at eford@ salisburypost.com or 704-797-4264.