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Obituary: Sir Donald Murray

Donald Frederick Murray, diplomat: born London 14 June 1924; Head of Chancery, Saigon 1962; Counsellor, Tehran 1969-72; CMG 1973; ambassador to Libya 1974-76; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1977-80; ambassador to Sweden 1980-84; KCVO 1983; Assessor Chairman, Civil Service Selection Board 1984-86; Channel Tunnel Complaints Commissioner 1987-95; married 1949 Marjorie Culverwell (three sons, one daughter); died Rye, East Sussex 8 January 1998.

Last Shrove Tuesday Sir Donald and Lady Murray moved house from the Romney marshes, which they loved, to Rye, which by the autumn they were learning to love. Murray's stay there was all too short. He had a serious heart attack in October, and although with characteristic determination he made a remarkable recovery he only just saw the New Year in.

Donald Murray was a man of great courage, indomitable will and undauntable spirit, and there were many places in the world which he and his wife Marjorie, whom he had married in 1949, had come to love before they returned to Britain in 1984 from his last diplomatic post, the embassy in Stockholm.

Their map of the world identified among other places Saigon, Tehran and Tripoli. While living in them Murray was keenly aware not only of their troubled present but of the tangle of rich historical and literary associations of each of them. Another place, Vienna, where he was Second Secretary in 1953, had once been at the centre of other people's maps and Murray, while there, enjoyed discussing and arguing with equal fervour about both Metternich and Orson Welles.

The year 1984, when he retired from the Foreign Service, was the year which Orwell forced into history, and Murray would doubtless have been more willing and able to argue with Orwell than with Rye's Henry James. In the Orwellian base year, 1948, he left Worcester College, Oxford, where I was his tutor, and took up his first diplomatic post as Third Secretary in ravaged Warsaw. Thereafter he came to know both Eastern and Western Europe and, equally basic to his own map, Baltic and Mediterranean.

As First Secretary, Political Office, Middle East Forces, in 1956, he was not far from Suez and very near to Nicosia. As ambassador to Libya, which was one of the places he came to love, between 1974 and 1976 he had enough leisure to allow him - and his family - to pick up Roman coins from lonely shores. While there he knew diplomats from every geographical and ideological clime and was well informed about every "terrorist organisation". Yet he felt perfectly secure.

In retrospect, as at the time, this was a testing experience, for Murray was only frustrated when he was inactive. Sweden provided tests of a different kind. He had to persuade the Swedes that for Thatcher's Britain - if not for all Britons - the Falkland Islands, miles away, were not peripheral.

Given the fact that Murray always drew his own map outside as well as inside Europe, it was valuable for him to have studied international relations at Oxford at a time when the subject was not fashionable, and it was a tribute to his commitment that he secured an unusual distinction in his shortened war degree. He knew both how to work and how to play. One place not for long on his map was pre-Thurn, pre-Santer Luxembourg. I saw it with him when our main preoccupation, an urgent one, was to win enough money at bridge to move on to Maastricht and to Amsterdam where an American friend, blessed with dollars was (theoretically) waiting for us. I had no intimation - nor did he - of how Maastricht would one day be established on every European and anti-European map.

Before Oxford, Murray had already proved all his qualities, serving as a commando with the Royal Marines from 1943 to 1946. He was severely wounded, but he never allowed this to be a handicap. It seemed almost natural when, as Head of Chancery in Saigon in 1962, he took home a Christmas present for one of his children with shrapnel in it. The Post Office had been blown up.

It was even more natural that after he left the Foreign Office one of the jobs which he took up was that of Channel Tunnel Complaints Commissioner. The complaints he had to handle related to the digging of the tunnel. One of them came from a model aeroplane flying club whose members complained that what was happening below the ground was destroying their freedom in the air. Murray, who knew everything about sacrifice - he had loved athletics - was not the kind of Commissioner who depended on a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis.

In the beginning of his life he had been at school at King's, Canterbury, not far from the place where he died. The county mattered to him as well as the country or the town. From 1985 to 1990 he was Kent County Chairman of the Soldier's, Sailors', and Airmen's Families Association (SSAFA). In parallel he was a trustee of the World Resource Foundation. In thinking and acting locally and globally his wife and family were his own greatest resource.