Lasting legacies: Murray’s $1.6-million gift to benefit graduate students

Growing up in London, the daughter of distinguished pathologist and Western professor Dr. Frederick Winnett Luney, Marion Murray held strong ties to Western’s departments of Microbiology and Immunology, and Pathology.

Murray, who died in 2013, showed her gratitude to those departments this week with a $1.6-million donation to establish three endowed scholarship programs in support of graduate students at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

This is the second major gift from Murray, who donated $1.2  million in 1999 to establish the annual R.G.E Murray Lecture Series, to honour her husband and former Western professor, Robert Murray, who had been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Marion, who attended Western in preparation for her career as a medical technologist, started working at St. Joseph’s Hospital Laboratory, where her father was the pathologist. After stops in St. Catharines, Ont., and Lansing, Mich., she returned to Western, where she worked for 23 years in Microbiology and Immunology.

She was the chief technologist in the department’s Clinical Bacteriology Service for Victoria Hospital. When the Faculty of Medicine moved to the campus in 1966, Marion came along to provide technical support for the laboratory training of countless students.

Four years after retiring from Western in 1981, she married Robert, a departmental colleague for many years. Robert was the Microbiology and Immunology chair for 25 years, and a professor for more than twice that.

Robert said Marion very much enjoyed helping students realize their goal to be successful in their fields. Western, he said, was a significant part of her life.

“I am so pleased to know that her love of helping students learn will continue to be felt at Western,” Robert said at an event celebrating the donation on April 28.

The endowment funds will provide more than $60,000 in annual support, awarded in varying amounts, to graduate students through scholarships named in honour of her father and husband.

Western President Amit Chakma said the scholarships would help young scientists at a critical time in their development, laying the foundation for a lifetime of medical discoveries.

“We want to thank Dr. Robert Murray and his late wife for their steadfast support of our university and its students, not only in their philanthropic contributions, but also in their many years of teaching and assisting students,” he said. “It’s an incredible legacy.

“You and Marion exemplify what a true colleague is. You have given everything – your intellect, your time and, now, your resources. We thank you and you need to know you continue to inspire your colleague and friends. Hopefully, we can all follow in your footsteps.”

In special recognition of the impact Robert made in Microbiology and Immunology, a lounge was dedicated to him on Monday. The Dr. Robert G. E. Murray Lounge (Dental Sciences Building, room 3002) features paintings by his first wife, noted artist Doris Murray, as well as a collection of his medals. The room, Chakma said, will be a place where students and their mentors can exchange ideas and fellowship.

Western professor Bhagirath Singh, and acting Microbiology and Immunology chair, called Robert “the founding father of the department.”

“We take a lot of pride in how our department has grown and developed. There is not much more I can say about Dr. Murray,” he said. “He is someone who knows the history of this department so well. He has played a major role in that success.”

Singh also nodded to Marion’s efforts as a teacher and academic.

“She made sure the department was taken care of,” he said. “She was really passionate about our students and our programs. With this latest gift, all our graduates are going to benefit. Not only current students, but future students and future faculty will benefit greatly and academic performance will be enhanced.”

While Marion played a significant role in the success of so many students over the years, Robert said she also had a fun side.

“An important part of her life was she didn’t take life too damn seriously,” Robert admitted, adding his wife would be thrilled seeing the graduate students having “a little less money worries.”

“I’ve had a great life here and enjoyed it enormously. But it is also important to play at science, and not take it too damn seriously. Be sure to see there are things around the edges that are worth looking at. Maybe you should be looking outside of the box, as they say. There is much to do; I hope Marion’s gift will allow the students to play at science and enjoy it.”

This story originally appeared in the May 8, 2014 edition of Western News.