Friends and family of Murray Thomson gather to remember and celebrate his life

Published by Brent Patterson on

A celebration of the life of Murray Thomson was held at the First Unitarian Church in Ottawa on the afternoon of Wednesday October 23.

Murray, one of the eleven original founders of the global human rights organization Peace Brigades International, died at 96 years of age this past May.

The gathering, organized by the Ottawa Quaker community, drew about 300 people with about a dozen of them offering reflections on Murray’s love of poetry, music (he played the violin), tennis, chess and his penchant for forming peace groups.

Some of the groups Murray helped to found also included Project Ploughshares, Canadian Friends of Burma, Seniors for Social Responsibility, and the Peacefund Canada Foundation (which was later combined with Peace Brigades International-Canada).

Two of the speakers mused that Murray seemed to form a new organization “every hour or so”, but it is a testament to his vision that Peace Brigades International continues to this day in 20 countries and is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary.  

Another speaker recited one of Murray’s poems published in a book titled Waging Peace: Poetry and Political Action.

In Hearts of Red, Murray reflected on the paper sentimentalism of Valentine’s Day and the love expressed through sacrifice and service to others.

The last three verses of his poem read:

Romero, the Archbishop, down in old San Salvador – was he mailing out his cards when men with guns came through his door?

And did George Fox and Margaret Fell, and all those early Quakes, sit silent making valentines for each other, for goodness sakes?

No way – those artisans of love knew well the colour red. They gave away their hearts, cut out. It was their blood they shed.

Many of the comments about Murray’s life highlighted his deep commitment to peace, his sense urgency for more work to be done to advance peace, his ability to find funding (“to draw money from a stone”), but also, despite the seriousness of that work, his light touch, his sense of humour, and his endearing laugh.

You can hear that laugh in this short video that was played at the celebration of his life.

I also felt honoured to be able to say a few words on behalf of the Peace Brigades International family in recognition of Murray’s legacy in the ongoing accompaniment and support of at-risk human rights defenders.

And while it may be hard to see in the photo above, it was touching to later see in the slide show a photo of the back of a PBI field volunteer’s vest with our logo.

The most moving testimony may have come from his daughter Sheila.

She shared that after Murray’s death she found a piece of paper with a quote on it that he had kept in his wallet.

Sheila then read to us the lines that must have been dear to Murray’s heart: “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

From the stories that were shared by friends and family, and the love felt for him, it is clear that this is how Murray lived his life.

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