Derek turned 90 years old last November living in isolation at his seniors’ residence located in the British Columbia interior.
Derek was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1930 the son of Thomas Murray in his second marriage to Isabella Purdie and grew up there through the Great Depression and WWII. He lost his father in 1940 at an early age of 10 and also lost his mother in 1954 at 24 years old.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Derek’s mother would often send him on errands like picking up the daily bread from the bakery down the street. He would talk about peeling off delicious slivers of tender bread from sides of the loaf until there was not much left of the loaf except for the top and bottoms crusts; Mother wasn’t very pleased with this. Derek also worked for a while in a local confectionary helping make candy where he was allowed to sample as much of the wares as he desired which he soon learned not to sample too much lest he suffer the tummy troubles afterwards.
Derek served in the RAF from Oct-1949 to Oct-1951 as a radar operator in Scotland post-WWII.
He earned his Higher Nationals Certificate from the Paisley College of Technology in Chemistry in 1955. He worked as a researcher for the Scottish Distillers Co. Association and as a consultant to the distilleries for producing Scotch Whiskey. He earned a patent for the process he helped to develop to optimize the fermentation yields of the malting mash in the production of Scotch Whiskey. He enjoyed the perks of the Scotch industry including the occasional gift of precious amber elixer he would discover neatly tucked into the back seat of his car from the managers of the distilleries he would visit as a consultant.
In addition to his education in Chemistry, Derek learned the art of scientific glass blowing and would frequently construct and repair much of the glass laboratory apparatus he used throughout his career.
Derek married Margaret Latimer from Alloa, Clackmannanshire in 02-Jul-1955 and began raising a family with his wife and three children (Linda, Desmond, and Kevin). He lost his first wife about 1961 when his children were still very young; Kevin was only an infant. A meddling landlady and a pushy priest who shunned Derek for not finding another good catholic lass to be the children’s mother eventually pushed Derek to leave his home in Scotland. Derek was not one to tolerate being told by anyone how to live his life.
In Jan-1964 as a widower with three young children Derek immigrated to Canada. He settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba and began his career in Canada at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Agriculture, Soil Sciences Department as a researcher.
In Winnipeg he met Shirley Fleming from Hamiota, Manitoba, a registered nurse at the Misericordia Hospital. He remarried, started a new family, and settled into a new home in the Winnipeg neighborhood of Fort Garry.
Looking for an upgrade in pay, Derek crossed the street to the Freshwater Institute, a brand-new federal government facility on the university grounds, and landed a public service job researching environmental pollution in the Canadian arctic for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
After the birth of his fourth child (Kenneth) he built a new home on an acreage in St. Germain, Mb on the outskirts of Winnipeg and resettled with his family in the community there.
Derek and Shirley were active in the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and regularly performed and volunteered at the British Pavilion of the Folklorama Festival (an annual festival in Winnipeg celebrating the various ethnic cultures of the people who settled in Winnipeg).
Derek was a doting Grandad. He was remembered for always looking after his children and grandchildren that left fond memories of sitting on Grandad’s lap while he beautified their fingernails to match his own impeccably well-groomed hands.
Derek brought with him many aspects of his Scottish heritage including some phrases I remember:
“It’s nae skean aff ma niz”
“haud yer wheesht lad!”
“ye mak a better door than a windae”
“yer bum’s oot the windae”
“Fools and bairns shouldna see half-dune wark”
“it’s fair braw”
“As any half-assed Scotsman” he would often say…
Derek enjoyed playing golf, badminton, contract bridge, and snooker; skilled enough to consistently give his sons ass-whipping lessons at billiards.
He was a gifted craftsman taking up several hobbies: woodworking, wine making, and building sailboats. There isn’t really anything he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it.
He constructed two cottages, one on Deception Lake, Mb and another on Lake of the Woods, On. He could sew his own clothes, repair his own automobiles, and not too bad in the kitchen; he could masterfully carve a tender roast of beef.
To augment his qualifications, Derek took classes at the U of M and earn his master’s degree in Chemistry. He was a pioneering researcher in the field of gas chromatography and developed several techniques for the sampling and analysis of pollutants in air, water, and biota; publishing numerous papers in the field of environmental analytical chemistry.
In May, 1991 Derek retired from the DFO with what he called the “golden handshake” and eventually relocated to Westbank, BC in 1996 where he and Shirley settled into retirement life.
In Westbank, he refined his woodworking skills creating many pieces of beautiful wood artwork that he offered up for sale in a local art gallery and gift shop. At the Westbank Seniors’ Centre, he was the scorekeeper for the Westbank bridge club for many years.
Derek was of slight build never putting on too much extra weight but strong as an ox and tough as nails. He remained quite healthy throughout his life even at the age of 90, he could walk perfectly upright. Never had back, hip, or knee problems. He survived a stroke and recovered from it without any lasting physical effects. The only real physiological ailment he fought was COPD which likely developed from years of smoking cigarettes; a habit he managed to quit not long after moving to the Okanagan.
In May of 2016, Derek lost Shirley, his second wife, sold his condo and moved into a retirement residence where he lived on his own until Jan-2021.
He began to develop dementia, struggled somewhat with reduced lung capacity but a lack of exercise impacted his fitness level and ability to process oxygen. Use it or lose it is something I tried to convince him of; if one doesn’t get enough exercise, muscle tissue diminishes, and the body grows weak lessening the ability to process oxygen efficiently. He gave up his woodworking to avoid breathing the saw dust that he was convinced affected his breathing.
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