UPDATED Murray McCheyne Thomson O.C., 1922–2019

UPDATE: Since we posted our tribute, Jamie Fox of Peace Quest has written a wonderful obituary which appeared in the Globe and Mail on 15 May, 2019 entitled: Pacifist Murray Thomson waged an unrelenting campaign for peace.

For those who cannot access the article, due to the paywall, click here for a pdf. version.  

Our original Tribute

On Thursday, 2 May, in the early hours of the morning, Canada lost an extraordinary humanitarian and lifelong peace activist, Murray Thomson.

Debbie Grisdale, former Executive Director of Physicians for Global Responsibility (1994–2007) and a close friend and collaborator of Murray’s, shared the sad news thusly:

Murray Thomson died last night after several days in hospital. At 96, he had lived a long and generous life showing his deep concern for, and tireless pursuit of, social justice until his last days. His numerous and remarkable contributions to adult education, international development, peace and disarmament, and to the community of those who love poetry and bad puns, will live on.  May he rest in peace after a long life well lived.

Murray’s Wikipedia biography can be found here. Highlights include being a co-founder of several important Canadian civil society organizations devoted to peace and equitable development, and a recipient of the Order of Canada in 2001.

We at the Rideau Institute are especially proud of the fact that, in 2010, Murray Thomson was a co-recipient, along with two other nuclear disarmament luminaries — Douglas Roche and John Polanyi — of our Progressive Leadership Award. The inscription simply reads:

For an outstanding contribution to a progressive vision of Canada

Murray Thomson’s dedication to nuclear disarmament continued well into the tenth decade of a life filled with service to humanity. At 93, he was busy promoting his book: Minutes to Midnight: Why More Than 800 Order of Canada Recipients Call for Nuclear Disarmament. It features short essays from luminaries like Chris Hadfield, Romeo Dallaire, Margaret Atwood and Jane Urquhart on why they each had joined the call for international negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

In an interview about the book CBC journalist Liam Britten wrote:

[Murray Thomson] says for meaningful change to take place, it’s up to members of civil society to speak up and make their voices heard. When that happens, he says, politicians often follow.

For the full article, see: Nuclear war still threatens world, experts say; disarmament only solution (Liam Britten, cbc.ca, 17 May 2016).

By April of this year, when Murray was 96 years old, 1034 members of the Order of Canada had joined the initiative. This effort was led by Murray and three other Order of Canada recipients and long-time nuclear disarmament activists, Doug Roche, John Polanyi and Ernie Regehr.  There is no doubt that Murray’s indefatigable efforts were a key factor in securing such a large number of signatories.

Among his many awards, Murray received the Pearson Peace Medal, with the following explanation:

Throughout his career Murray Thomson has been a tireless worker for peace, development and human dignity. His boundaries are world-wide, encompassing all of humanity. His commitment is to a world in which all can live and prosper in peace with their neighbours. Those efforts reflect a philosophy that owes much to his Quaker roots.

There is a video that wonderfully captures both Murray Thomson’s dedication to nuclear disarmament and his impish sense of humour. Most appropriately titled Age is More: Murray Thomson, and created by Asmaa Bacchus and Nila Adeyfea (2014), it can be seen by clicking below:

To counter the seemingly relentless avalanche of bad news about increased military spending and nuclear brinkmanship, Murray developed Canada’s Good News Service, which he emailed out to folks and had posted on the Canadian Pugwash Group website. The Kingston-based Peace Quest civil society organization wrote about it in 2013:

The good news digest offers a tonic for the grim if-it-bleeds-it-leads newscast imperative. The Pugwash Good News Service is in part the brainchild of one of Canada’s national treasures. Murray Thomson, now in his tenth decade, is a founder of Project Ploughshares and longtime member of the Canadian Pugwash Group.

Murray’s last Good News contribution was written in March 2019 and focused on the passing of two other extraordinary Canadians, former M.P. Paul Dewar and author Patrick Lane.  It can be found here:

Our last word goes to Group of 78 Chair Roy Culpeper:

Murray would also want us to keep up the fight, and never, ever, give up.

Photo credits: Wikimedia images.

Tags: Canada's Good News Service, Canadian Pugwash Group, Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, Debbie Grisdale, Group of 78, Murray Thomson, Nuclear disarmament, Nuclear Weapons Convention, Order of Canada, PeaceQuest, Pearson Peace Medal