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.

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
Queen Elizabeth II sends the first royal tweet under her own name to declare the opening of the new Information Age Galleries at the Science Museum, South Kensington, London
media... and the BBC was there to document one of the worst reactions
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker