Historians are not born but formed in the crucible of their studies. David Murray was a glittering illustration of that. He was born in Saskatchewan in 1940, raised in Montreal and Toronto, and studied for an Honours BA at Bishop's University. He graduated in 1962 and left for Edinburgh as the holder of the Howard Ferguson Cup for outstanding academic achievement. That achievement was followed by a Commonwealth Scholarship and a happy marriage to Ann Stockwell, who joined him in Scotland. It was the start of a 57-year partnership.
His MA at Edinburgh led to an IODE scholarship and three years at Churchill College, Cambridge, for work on his Ph.D. His time there was very fruitful. It saw the arrival of his first child, Heather, and the completion of his ground-breaking doctoral thesis work on the ending of the slave trade in Cuba.
He and Ann and Heather moved to Guelph in 1967. He began what became a notable career as a professor of history, a career that lasted through decades at the University of Guelph. In addition, he served for 12 years as the Dean of Arts. His son Rob was born in 1969. In 1977 David returned to Cambridge, on sabbatical for a year, as a Visiting Fellow. While his studies and publications were far from finished, the family became finally complete with the arrival in 1978 of his second daughter, Deb, who was born, like Heather, in Cambridge.
David began his career as a faculty member at the University of Guelph in 1967. He was granted tenure in 1969, promoted to Associate Professor in 1972 and to Full Professor in 1982. After a year in the role of Acting Dean, he was appointed Dean of the College of Arts in 1981 and served in this capacity until 1992. David’s years as Dean were characterized by his commitment to promoting the Humanities at Guelph, his unqualified support for faculty throughout the College, and his sincere concern for the education and well-being of students in the BA program. David was also beloved by the staff in Dean’s Office. In 1992 he returned enthusiastically to focussing on research and teaching as a faculty member in the History Department. His dedication and effectiveness as a teacher were recognized in 1999 when he received the College of Arts Teaching Excellence Award and the University of Guelph Faculty Association Distinguished Professor Teaching Award. David retired in 2005 but agreed to take on the role of Acting Chair of SETS for 2005-06. In 2007 he was named University Professor Emeritus.
David Murray was an outstanding historian who published prodigiously and whose research was wide-ranging, sophisticated, and meticulous. His PhD thesis was published in 1980 by Cambridge University Press as Odious Commerce: Britain, Spain and the Abolition of the Slave Trade to Cuba. Professor Karen Racine reminded her colleagues of this book’s importance: “Most of us know David as the funny, self-deprecating, kind, welcoming, person of integrity that he was. But he was also a scholar of foundational importance for the field of slavery and abolition. Forty years after Odious Commerce was first published, it is still considered the central originating text for the study of abolition in Spanish America (and by analogue, the Iberian Atlantic). All work flows from his.” Along with numerous articles and book chapters, David went on to publish four other books in Canadian history beginning with The Prairie Builder: Walter Murray of Saskatchewan in 1984 and Hatching the Cowbird’s Egg: The Creation of the University of Guelph in 1989. In 2002 he published Colonial Justice: Justice, Morality and Crime in the Niagara District, 1791-1849. A review in the prestigious journal Law and History described this book as “one of the most thorough studies of the operation of the pre-reform criminal justice regime in British North America.” With co-author Susan Armstrong-Reid, he also published Armies of Peace: Canada and the UNRRA years in 2009.
Past and present members of the Department of History experienced deep sadness and a profound sense of loss at the death of our friend David Murray in October. Professor Femi Kolapo expressed the sentiments of his colleagues in a poignant e-mail to the Department: “David’s passing has affected me much and I am sure it does to us all who know him, and I just want to express my condolences to us all. May his soul rest in peace and may God comfort his family. It is sad that this Covid 19 situation has affected everything that really matters. It was upsetting to me that I was unable to grieve and express my sympathies face to face with and to colleagues in the department where he worked and where we were so much together.” Beyond his outstanding contributions as a scholar, teacher, and administrator, the History Department and the College of Arts remembers David Murray primarily for his absolute integrity, his constant kindness, and his boundless generosity. As Terry Crowley, former Department Chair and David’s long-time friend, put it, “David was an exemplar of the best in humanity during these times when the worst is more paramount than usual.”
As a faculty member in History, David taught a wide range of courses in multiple fields: Canadian History, Latin American History including the Cuban Revolution, History of the British Commonwealth, Modern Europe, and the Introduction to History. He also supervised numerous graduate students as well as many undergraduate research projects. David was a popular instructor and supervisor because of his deep knowledge and his enthusiasm, but also because of his dry humour and gentle kindness. His colleagues appreciated these qualities as much as his students and were also the beneficiaries of his mentorship. He was a trusted confidante and advisor to multiple Department Chairs, he made new faculty members feel at home, he supported colleagues in their teaching, he read countless draft chapters and articles and always offered helpful advice and encouragement. David Murray was a model professor, university citizen, and colleague. We loved him and we will miss him.
To honour David and acknowledge the tremendous legacy of collegiality and scholarship he leaves to the University of Guelph, we invite you to support the existing scholarship that meant so much to him:
The David Murray Medal awarded to an undergraduate at Convocation, the College of Arts nominee for the Winegard Medal – the top Medal at the University of Guelph.
For assistance in making your donation, please connect with Mary Walsh through email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 519-827-7856.