Every year, we at Black Press celebrate the accomplishments of a plethora of talented journalists, photographers and designers across the province by way of the Ma Murray Awards.
Before I put on my historian glasses and take a deeper dive into a truly unique character in Canadian history, I’d like to extend my sincerest congratulations to Emelie Peacock, Jessica Peters and Barry Stewart for being finalists at this year’s awards. All three deserve these accolades and more for sharing their talents with The Standard and the Hope area. I salute them.
A quick search of Margaret “Ma” Lally Murray’s name brings up a 1966 MacLean’s article titled “Ma Murray: The Salty Scourge of Lillooet.”
“She is like her paper – as gentle as a shotgun and timid as a muleskinner.”
Known for her brash opinions, tenuous grasp of spelling and grammar and punk rock attitude long before punk rock existed, Ma Murray was British Columbia’s first female newspaper publisher of The Bridge River-Lillooet News and The Alaska Highway News. The former guaranteed “a chuckle a week or a belly laugh once a month or your money back.”
Ma was born in Kansas in 1888 and was the seventh of nine children. She had a singular goal in her younger days – to marry an Alberta cowboy.
She went off to Canada with her sister Bess, where she would take a job as a bookkkeeper at The Greater Vancouver Chinook under George Murray. She quit work at The Chinook, still headstrong about roping in an Alberta cowboy. She returned five days later, and George asked her to marry him.
The Murrays ended up in Lillooet in the early 1930s after George won the MLA seat, where they published the Bridge River-Lillooet News. The Murrays had a number of publications in their repertoire, including Country Life in British Columbia, a magazine dedicated to rural women.
Despite her lack of formal education and unorthodox writing style, Ma Murray was well-read and a fearless writer. This lack of fear often landed her in trouble with locals and their lawyers. She marched proudly to the beat of her own drum, shrugging off the scoffs of her contemporaries in more urban markets like Vancouver.
Ma was famous in no small part for her columns. Her views were often controversial, incendiary and at times even libelous. What’s more, she must have driven many a typesetter to the brink of madness. Nonetheless, Ma Murray kept pushing and still found her place in the hearts of readers across the country. Her frank, coarse and amusing columns held a mirror to the triumphs and flaws of not only small-town life but Canadian society as a whole.
Ma Murray passed away at the age of 94 in 1982, leaving behind six decades of commitment to community journalism and countless stories of society-defying antics and earthy, well-loved prose.
Ma was one of the great curmudgeons. One needs a dash of salt to work in this industry, and Ma Murray was in no short supply. She made her voice heard to even those who wouldn’t welcome it. Her brand of fearless, establishment-challenging journalism set an unapologetic standard for grizzled paper veterans to the greenest j-school graduates that in some ways can never be repeated.
Beyond the world of journalism, though, we all have a little Ma Murray in us that needs to come out. Life’s too short to refrain from expressing ourselves. We all have that voice inside us that says “Look, I have some thoughts on this and I’m going to explode if I don’t get them out.”
Good or bad, if you have unbridled enthusiasm about something and you can channel it into something creative or productive, set it free.
If the life of Ma Murray can teach us anything, it’s that it’s okay to throw your whole being into your chosen passion without fear of judgment just for the sheer joy that you can.
It’s those impassioned thoughts, ideas and pursuits that at their highest potential could inspire and change the world we live in. At the very least, those passions are a celebration of the miracle of human consciousness we so often take for granted.
It’s those drives and desires that make life worth living, and to paraphrase Ma, “that’s for darn sure.”