A year ago died Barbara Murray, whose two little books are still available from me: stories for children learning to read by the phonic method, and the Bemerton Anthology of poems by George Herbert and by herself. I think I will try to recall the eulogy which formed in my head as I flew over the ocean to her memorial service and which – after a more considered tribute by Albert Blackwell – I delivered extempore with a stumble or two and a catch in the throat that strangled the last words:

Barbara Murray profile

There is a lot more that could be said about Barbara. I sum her up as: compassionate; intelligent; and sharply witty. She was a classic blond beauty. She came of a New Zealand farming family of Scottish descent, her father was a good old traditional Christian socialist, and she kept to that ideal all her life – that society should look to the well-being of all its members. She understood the wrongness of the death penalty before I did, and worked against that and other forms of injustice. She tirelessly advocated the rights of the Palestinians among whom she had lived. Year after year she wrote the newsletter of the Greenville peace group, which at times was reduced to her and its founder Albert Blackwell. She was a horsewoman. She was always breaking into song, often to her own piano accompaniment – seventeenth-century madrigals, Schubert’s Schöne Müllerin, Scottish folksongs.   She sang the part of Dido in her university’s production of Purcell’s opera. She had a fine harpsichord built, which later she donated to Furman University. She improvised irreverent ditties, and of her acerbic wit one had to be slightly scared. Her Montessori classroom was the first and perhaps only schoolroom I ever saw that actually worked; she got the children teaching themselves. Her four little sets of stories in phonic words are masterpieces of literature for children. Her few published poems are wrung from the heart. To adapt another poet: “They told me, Barbara Muriel, they told me you were dead, They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed; I wept as I remembered how often you and I Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky. And now that you are sleeping, my dear New Zealand guest, A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest, Still are your pleasant voices, your nightingales, awake, For Death he taketh all away but these he cannot…”

3 thoughts on “Nightingales”

  1. Barbara sounds like a remarkable human being who mae the world better. Her bright spirit lives on in your loving memory, and through your vivid remembrance of her. Sending prayers of comfort and gratitude.

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