A Tribute: Alan Leslie Murray
7 July 1914 - 4 March 2005
A Tribute: Alan Leslie Murray
7 July 1914 - 4 March 2005
Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-66) reports: Nearly 40 years after leaving John Ruskin School, I joined 100 family, friends and colleagues of Mr. Alan Murray for a very moving memorial service at St. Swithun's C of E Church, Grovelands Road, Purley, Croydon, Surrey, at 2.30pm on Monday 21st March, 2005. The beautiful mild and sunny spring weather and the openness and freshness of the church seemed to match Alan's temperament - keen, alive and optimistic. His image shown right is taken from the 1960 school photograph.
The service to this well-loved, humane and respected man and teacher lasted about an hour, with a chance to meet old friends afterwards over refreshments. The music, hymns and readings reflected his life and character. A tribute from his son John, which is reproduced below; a reading by his son Alan from Little Gidding by T. S. Eliot; music by J S Bach; singing by the congregation led by a choir of friends and family; and, at the end, a short political song by Joan Baez.
The four-page program is included
below; click on thumbnail to view larger version.
As well as his sons Alan and
John, family members included his daughter Dorothea, plus grandchildren
from England, France and Canada. The church had been the one attended by
Alan Murray with his late wife Phyllis; indeed Alan had played the organ
there for many years. We learned more about his life, from his birth in
Essex at the start of the first world war, university at Cambridge, music,
politics, books, and of course teaching. He began his career in Cheshire
and in 1952 joined John Ruskin Grammar School, first at Tamworth Road and
then at Shirley, becoming Head of History, retiring in 1977 by which time
it had become John Ruskin High.
Also there, as pictured above,
(1963-71+). All were in good health and eager to share stories about the
school, old friends and their late colleague. Click on any image to view
an enlarged version.
Paul Graham, Iver, Bucks, March 2005 email
Alan Murray Junior replies: It was
good to meet you, Paul, and so many old boys and masters at Alan's funeral
on Monday. I am attaching the tribute that was read at the service, and
also the article by John Chilvers that appeared in the church magazine,
itself based on a 1970 interview, containing details indicating that at
least some of my tribute was slightly inaccurate.
A moving tribute to Mr. Murray read at the service by his son John Murray -
Before Alan had his major debilitating stroke in 1996, he had begun to write down some of his memories in a manuscript that was planned to have 25 chapters. Unfortunately, only five of them, covering the period from his birth in 1914 up to about 1935, were completed, and notes on two or three others survive. We would like to eventually reconstruct the missing chapters, and would be very grateful to hear from any of you who have memories of him, or details about those parts of his life that we are unfamiliar with.
It is not going to be possible in the time available to say all the things that should be said today, so I shall just touch on a few of the sides of Alan’s life and character, and the effect that he had upon so many lives. My father lived a long and very full life, which in messages of sympathy some of you have described as “richly rewarding”, “fulfilled and wonderful”, and as “a life well lived”.
One of his earliest memories dates from the end of the First World War in 1918. It was of a great family party at his grandparents in Ilford, Essex, to celebrate the return of family members from the fighting in France. Alan, who was four years old, spent most of the evening close to the piano, where his grandmother was providing the music for the dancing and the songs. That image of his grandmother at the piano stayed with him until he died, and Music became a tremendously important part, perhaps the most important part, of Alan’s life.
He learned to sing and play the piano with such rapid progress that he was considered for a career as a concert pianist, but eventually settled down as an extremely active and gifted amateur musician.
He met Phyllis Manning, a bright and vivacious student teacher, at church in Upminster when he was a teenager, and they were married in 1939. We three children, Alan, John and Dorothea, were born between 1943 and 1949. Music surrounded us as children, and listening to my father playing the piano downstairs as we drifted off to sleep is one of those warm, homely childhood memories that we share.
Johann Sebastian Bach was the composer that he loved and revered the most, and soon after we moved to Purley in 1952 he joined the newly-formed London Bach Society, where he sang Bass. In 1957 they began a series of concerts in which every single one of Bach’s 210 surviving cantatas were sung. This took them until 1987, and as singers joined and retired, Alan was one of only 4 members to sing every single cantata over the thirty years.
After his retirement in 1977, he was in demand to play in orchestras and concerts throughout South London, Surrey and neighbouring counties, often taking his beloved harpsichord with him in the back of the car. He had taken up the organ before the war, and amongst many other commitments was organist and choirmaster of this church of St Swithun’s in the 1960s.
Regarding his political life, he was really apolitical until he read J. B. Priestley’s English Journey, and H. G. Wells’ A short history of the world in the 1930s. Thereafter he essentially became a socialist, and was a member of the Labour Party until he died. There is no doubt that his Christian beliefs were behind his lifelong commitment to world peace. He was actually a pacifist before World War II, but when it came to the crunch, he thought that the Nazi Party was so close to being an absolute evil that he did join up, and spent the war as a health and hygiene lecturer to the troops.
He was very disturbed by the advent of nuclear weapons and the arms race in the 1950s, and joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when it was formed. After his retirement, he became involved in Peace groups locally, and one of the charities closest to his heart and thinking was Christian CND, to which you are invited to contribute in his memory.
Our memories of him as children were of a father who certainly did not rule the house with a rod of iron, but who took a close and loving interest in everything that we did. Although he could be angry when we pushed him too far, I never saw him depressed, and his abiding temperament, which I am sure you will all corroborate, was of someone who remained fundamentally cheerful and happy even under the most difficult circumstances.
After they had been married for 23 years, my mother started to show increasing signs of the schizophrenia, and later severe diabetes, that was to affect her for the remaining 27 years of her life. It is difficult to fully appreciate the devastating effect that this must have had on my father, but he remained devotedly attached to her, and nursed her through the most distressing, and at times primitive and bungled medical procedures of those times. He had watched his father do the same with my grandmother, who when he was five years old contracted osteomyelitis, which confined her to bed for 35 years until a cure was found in the 1950s. He was determined that Phyllis’ illness should not affect their social lives, and with thoughtful attentiveness continued to take her out to dinner-parties, concerts and plays, always considerate, cheerful, and above all hopeful, until her death in 1989.
When Alan had the devastating stroke that left him paralysed down his left side in 1996, his remarkably optimistic temperament again came to his rescue. It never ceased to astound me how anyone could remain so cheerful when trapped helpless and unable to move for the rest of their life, and not only that but to make new friends, and become loved and admired by a new set of people until the day that he died.
To return to his youth, Alan did outstandingly well at school and went on to read History at Cambridge; the first of the family ever to go to university. He became a schoolmaster, teaching history as his main subject, firstly at Runcorn and Helsby, Cheshire, and later at John Ruskin School, Shirley, where he eventually became Head of Department.
A profound love of the Arts...
There were things about my father that we gradually became aware were different from other fathers that we knew. There were huge numbers of books in the house, and every time there was a book we wanted or needed to read, or a piece of music we wanted to hear, it always seemed that we already had it in the house. He was a strong devotee not just of music, but of Literature, Theatre and the Arts in general. As a family we were frequent theatre-goers, concert-goers, and would visit most of the major Art Exhibitions in London, which gave us children a background, knowledge and love of the Arts from an early age that has provided us with a lifelong interest, and was a tremendous advantage when it came to exam time.
He seemed to have the ability to inspire affection and respect in young people, and to mix and chat with them socially in such a way that all age differences were quickly forgotten. This was certainly true of his grandchildren, each of which he had a special affection for, and who are gathered here today not just from this country, but from France and Canada as well. His grandson Stevie from Canada, unable to make it today, has specially asked that we mention the debt of gratitude that he feels towards Alan for what he taught him over the years, as well as the close bond of affection that he shall never forget.
But his affection was not just restricted to family members. When we were teenagers, his Fifth and Sixth form pupils were frequent visitors to the house, sometimes coming to the door in lively groups to ask my father out to the pub to celebrate their exam results, something that I would never have dreamed of doing with my own teachers, none of whom were anything like that approachable. Even some of my own teenage friends said to me how they wished they had a father like mine, and would borrow books and consult him on matters historical, musical and intellectual.
Many of his pupils stayed in contact with him and became life-long friends, but I never quite appreciated how completely he had broken down all barriers of age and authority until many years later, when an ex-pupil told me what used to go on. No pupils were allowed out of school in the lunch hour, but my father and the music master would regularly lunch at a nearby pub where many Sixth formers were also habitually assembled. At a certain point in the proceedings, the music master would get one of the boys to slip a vodka into my father’s beer, and the lunch hour would end with Alan driving back to school with boys perched all over the inside and the outside of his car. All strictly against school rules and accepted practice, but the exam results that Alan got out of his pupils seemed to give him carte blanche as to his methods.
He has left behind him three children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, the latter of whom are almost equally divided between French, English and Canadian nationalities. It is, of course, sad to say goodbye, but at the same time I can only feel that his many qualities have not died, but that his abiding characteristics live on and grow in his many descendants. Far wider than this, I am also confident that he has been a strong influence for good in the lives of many, many friends and former pupils.
I have left the matter of Alan’s religious beliefs to the last. Although in an argument he was capable of taking up other intellectual and philosophical humanist standpoints, he remained a committed Christian in his beliefs and actions and was a lifelong churchgoer, in whom the liturgy and music of the church were deeply ingrained. On the title page of his memories is a brief introductory paragraph which ends with a short prayer in Latin and English, and this is perhaps a fitting note on which to end.
IN NOMINE PATRIS ET FILII ET SPIRITUS SANCTI.
This article by John Chilvers appeared
in the St. Swithun's Church magazine, and is based on a 1970 interview.
Alan’s death on March 4 at the age of 90 has to be seen as a happy release, freeing him to embark on the new adventure that undoubtedly lies ahead of him. He was a lovely man and it is sad that we have been largely deprived of his fellowship in worship at St Swithun’s in recent years. Throughout his long period of disability (some 9-10 years) at Westside Nursing Home in Foxley Lane, he has remained in remarkably good spirits. Initially it was possible for him to be brought to church by car, but this eventually proved too painful – though he was able to come for the special occasion of the Golden Jubilee last summer. All who visited him at Westside will testify to the warmth of his welcome and the alertness of his mind, even when his body was causing pain and distress. Even in the last few weeks when he was becoming very frail, he would recognise one’s voice immediately on arrival and invariably express gratitude to his visitor by name on leaving.
For the benefit of recent members of the church it may be helpful to recall extracts from Jill Broadley’s profile of Alan and Phyl when she interviewed them as her “Personality of the Month” for the August 1970 issue of the Magazine, shortly after Alan had returned for a second stint as St Swithun’s Organist and Choirmaster. She learnt that Alan had been born in Essex and educated first in Upminster and then at the Royal Liberty School, Romford. He was always keenly interested in piano and organ music, and learnt to play both instruments in this period. He enjoyed games and played tennis and football for the school. At 18, he entered Magdalen College, Cambridge, and gained an Honours Degree in History in 1935. He then did a Teacher Training Course at the Institute of Education and took his LRAM at the same time. However, unable to find a suitable history teaching post, he began his career by teaching General Subjects in a Secondary Modern School in Upminster.
Called up in November 1940, Alan served five years in the Hygiene School of the RAMC where he became a Sanitary Instructor. When demobbed he was offered his first History teaching position at Runcorn Grammar School in Cheshire and spent the next six years there. In December 1952 he took a post at the John Ruskin Grammar School in Croydon. By 1970 he was Head of the History Department there, also helping out with the General Music of the school, Sixth Form Studies and the Library.
His future wife, Phyl, was born in Wallington but moved to Upminster in 1926. She and Alan met through the Upminster Congregational Church, and they both belonged to the same teenage “gang”. They eventually married in 1939. Their wedding day was highlighted (if that is the right word) by thick fog; so to this day there is no photographic proof of the wedding.
Their first child, Alan, was born in 1943. Like his brother and sister, he became a prominent member of St Swithun’s choir and youth societies. He attended Whitgift School and gained a scholarship to Magdalen College, Cambridge, where he read History and Theology. By 1970, he was married, with two children, and living in Cambridge; but he subsequently remarried, had two further children and now lives in Highbury. John was born in 1945 and became a chorister in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. After attending the City of London School, he followed his father and brother to Magdalen to read Geography, which led on to research work in the field of Astronomy and Planetary Geology. In 1967 he married Ann Bliss, whose family then lived in Purley Knoll. They had two children and Jill Bingham remembers her saying with great sincerity: “I have the most wonderful father-in-law.” The feeling was mutual because he was devastated by her premature death some years later. Dorothea was born in 1949 and went to school in Oxted. Having married soon after leaving school, she and her husband went to Vancouver where they brought up their three children.
Alan and Phyl lived at 89 Woodcote Valley Road up to June 1976, at which date they moved to Northwood Avenue – making way for The Binghams to move in. Jill recalls their kindness and how happy they were to know that another family was moving in to their very special home where their children had grown up. Sadly, Phyl died peacefully in her sleep in April 1989 after many months in which life had become increasingly difficult, and Alan had cared for her most lovingly.
Politics was always a central concern in Alan’s life. He chaired the South Croydon Labour Party in the 1970s and later the Croydon Peace Council. Many were the articles he wrote in this magazine on Nuclear Disarmament and related subjects. Given the uncomfortable role he assumed as an ever-present social conscience within the St Swithun’s community, it was a tribute to the innate niceness of the man that he was loved and respected, and not resented – and who knows how many he influenced in the direction of greater humanity?
And here we include fond tributes to Mr. Murray from several former JRGS pupils:
Colin Peretti (JRGS 1955-60): The passing of Mr. Murray was very sad. I remember him from fourth and fifth year history. He had a quiet but firm manner, and he obviously had some influence on me as I managed to pass O-Level History. I also have a keen interest and a number of books about the Tudors, a subject that has been dealt with very well on TV over the past few years.
Peter Wilson (JRGS 1956-63): So sad to learn of Mr. Murray's passing - he was a really lovely man who made the subject interesting too (even though I eventually gave up History when we had the 'Physics or History' choice to make). I can remember him playing football in the Staff versus School match, and quite enjoying himself.
Roger Hall (JRGS 1959-66) and a member of Mr. Murray's 1961/2 3M class: I am really sad to hear this news. I thought that Alan Murray (we called him "Egg," if I remember, on account of his lack of hair!) was one of the kindest masters at the school and a really talented teacher. He made history interesting and treated us with respect. He also had a great sense of humour. One of the good guys.
Michael Horner (JRGS 1959-64)
member of 1961/2's 3M: I saw the news
– and my memory can still recall the man. A grand age.
Cliff Preddy (JRGS 1963-65): It has
been moving to read the tributes to Alan Murray. He did always seem to be
way ahead of his time in the way he dealt with us as pupils.
Other memories from JRGS Alumni:
● Appointment - Autumn 1952 page 5;
● Archaeological Society - Dec 1963 page 25;
The content of this web site is provided for educational purposes only, and is subject to change without notice. The JRGS Alumni Society makes no representation about the accuracy, reliability, completeness or timeliness of the content of this web site, nor the results to be obtained from using any part of such content.
Please send any messages and memorabilia to
©2023 JRGS Alumni Society. All Rights Reserved. Last revised: 17.02.23