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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste