Obituary: David Bruce McMurray, headmaster of Loretto School, Musselburgh

David McMurray was a force for change at the established schools he led as headmaster

David McMurray was a force for change at the established schools he led as headmaster

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Born: 15 December, 1937, in Edinburgh. Died: 7 June, 2015, in East Lothian, aged 77.

In his eight years as headmaster of Loretto David McMurray proved a strong leader of both staff and boys and improved many aspects of the school – both scholastically and socially. He was always keen to, as he himself put it, “offer greater scope to the individual and explain the rationale behind the instruction”.

As headmaster McMurray recognised that Loretto had to adapt and modernise and to this end he inaugurated several innovative development schemes – notably, the renovation of the gym (which also converted into a theatre) and a state-of-the-arts sports hall.

Perhaps McMurray’s most dynamic innovation – and one, that in a stroke, broadened the school’s appeal – was the introduction of co-education in the sixth form.

As the official history of Loretto comments, “Although he was headmaster for only eight years, David shot through Loretto like a rocket: a rocket which by no means had reached its zenith when he left in 1984 to become headmaster of Oundle.”

David Bruce McMurray attended both the junior and the senior schools at Loretto in the 1950s. He was a keen athlete (in the 1st XV and 1st XI) and a school prefect. He did his national service in the Royal Scots and then read English at Pembroke College, Cambridge. After a few years teaching at Stowe he joined the staff at Fettes in 1964 where he became head of the English department, a housemaster and coached both the rugby and cricket teams. He taught Tony Blair and as master-in-charge of rugby presciently observed: “Blair is the most courageous tackler I’ve ever seen.”

In 1976 he was appointed headmaster of Loretto and it was to prove an inspired choice. McMurray’s devotion to teaching and his abilities as a communicator proved invaluable both academically and in raising the school’s profile. Many pupils remember his gentle but firm authority, his friendship and genial sense of humour.

In his first year McMurray had the daunting task of hosting the school’s 150th anniversary celebration. He was an outgoing master blessed with patience and understanding and a prodigious memory: he knew all the pupils by name, their parents, their houses and sporting or personal pursuits.

Peter Wood, who served as McMurray’s second master, remembers him with a special pleasure. “David and his wife Toni were always full of life – together they made Loretto more lively. Making the school co-educational took quite a lot of doing but when David had made up his mind to do something he got on with it. David had a presence about him: staff meetings were lively but well controlled. David had foresight, wisdom and tact. He took Loretto forward.”

McMurray went to Oundle in 1984 where he broadened the school’s curriculum and started an adventurous development programme. David Sharp, McMurray’s second master, has commented: “David will go down as one of Oundle’s great innovating headmasters … if you seek his monument look around you.”

As at Loretto he oversaw the modernisation of many of the school’s facilities – converting the gym to a new library, a new music school and markedly refurbishing many of the boarding houses.

But his major introduction was, again, making Oundle co-educational. He well realised he was overturning 400 years of the school’s tradition but, as he stated at the time, “I believe that co-education is increasingly relevant and that for a very large proportion of boys and girls it is actually the best form of education.”

McMurray retired in 1999 to East Lothian where he much enjoyed playing the various golf courses in the area. He came out of retirement in 2001 to assume the headmastership of Rannoch School for just one term. McMurray served as HM Commissioner, Queen Victoria School, Dunblane and was a member of the Edinburgh Festival Society Council. He was appointed a governor of Fettes in 1994 and chairman of the governors in 2006. His agile mind allied with his life-long experience of working in education in Scotland ensured that he was a most active and dedicated chairman. The new water-based Astro hockey pitch is named in his honour.

McMurray was the ultimate committed and consummate schoolmaster – he enjoyed teaching and imparting his knowledge. He was passionate about English literature – particularly poetry – and was much respected and admired by generations of former pupils and colleagues.

Gavin Mcdowall, a member of the Loretto staff for many years, remembers McMurray as a colleague and friend whose “judgment was sound and fair. David was an enthusiast and an exceptional headmaster. Such potentially difficult innovations as the introduction of co-education he addressed in a most tactful manner and just made it work. I remember David very fondly.”

David McMurray is survived by his wife Toni and their three daughters.

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