By Tony Best | Sun, October 14, 2012 - 12:00 AM
“A gentleman and a gentle man.”
As the mourners filed past the casket in the Toronto Anglican church almost 25 years ago, an old friend of Eric Murray’s offered that accurate assessment of his life and career in the highly competitive world of journalism in Canada.
“Eric was an excellent example of a professional, a journalist, who made us proud of him as a Barbadian in Canada,” said Peter Morgan, a former Barbados High Commissioner in Ottawa.
Errol Humphrey, who later served for years as Barbados’ efficient Ambassador in Brussels, knew Eric well and he too spoke of his gentle nature and his firm commitment to family and career.
“Eric could get along with anybody but stuck to his guns in the interest of sound journalism,” said Humphrey, who helped to negotiate the Caribbean’s Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
Blend those comments together and what you get is the measure of the man who in 1964 edited the first television newscast ever broadcast by the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) from a two-room building that housed the TV transmitter and what passed for a studio in the middle of a cane field at Sturges Plantation in St Thomas.
Born in St George but raised in St John where he attended the Lodge School in the 1950s and early 1960s, Murray became a cadet under officer with the rank of lieutenant; played football for The Lodge; ran track and field at the Inter-School sports at Kensington; served as president of the Anglican Young People’s Association and was a member of the original news staff of CBC when Radio Barbados was launched in 1963. In Canada, he was active in the Barbadian and Caribbean immigrant communities, the church and was, by his wife’s story, an excellent father for their two daughters Dawn and Nicole.
When he died from leukaemia in Toronto in early 1988, he was the supervising editor of Broadcast News Canada, a sprawling agency that supplies news and current affairs programmes to almost 700 radio stations scattered across the provinces. Murray achieved heights that few Caribbean journalists have reached in Canada. He worked in Toronto and Ottawa, and covered major national, provincial and international events with aplomb.
His life and successes as an immigrant, a family man and a professional are well documented in a new biography written by his widow Jessima Murray, who explained in an introduction that she was “inspired” to write about him in order to fill in some of the gaps of knowledge about Barbadians who leave their birthplace in search of a better life and a productive career.
“I realize so little is said about our history as Barbadians, that the lives of gentle heroes can go unnoticed to the point that few people would know or even understand their plight in this life,” she said.
Written in a personal style, the book Son Of Barbados, A Canadian Journey brings back memories of a journalist who avoided complicated terms and high-sounding phrases. Quite unlike many journalists then and now, he was adept at leaving his ego outside of the newsroom. In today’s environment of partisan politics, Murray would be considered an independent outsider who wouldn’t be afraid to stand up to some of the most powerful public figures around.
One of them in 1966 was the late Errol Barrow, who at the height of his power as Barbados’ Premier and later Prime Minister was master of all he surveyed. When Murray thought Mr Barrow wasn’t being forthcoming with vital information about plans for Independence in 1966, he challenged the Premier in a memorable confrontation that was broadcast live on radio, several months before Barrow led the country onto Independence. And he did it without being disrespectful or abrasive.
At CBC, Murray started what became a staple, a series of current affairs and discussion programmes in Barbados and after he left for Toronto, he took that interest with him and it paved the way for his rise in broadcasting.
Like many immigrants, his first job in Canada was selling encyclopedias door to door but when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio offered him a temporary position as a reporter less than a year after his arrival, he jumped at the opportunity. The rest, as they say, is history. He moved to Broadcast News in the space of months and he remained there, climbing the ladder until his death.
To express its appreciation and preserve his memory, Broadcast News established the Canadian Press/Eric Murray Scholarship which is awarded every year to young visible minorities interested in a journalism career.
The biography was launched at a reception yesterday at St Barnabas Anglican Church hall, St Michael. The book is available on Amazon.com.
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