Monday, October 3, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 2: Happy Birthday, Murray!

The first time I met him was in 2006: I  - who can't balance a chequebook - had been flung haphazardly from the world of editorial into the world of selling to accountants.

And Murray called for an appointment. It ended up that he spent several hours giving me a crash course on an introduction to accountants, key sections of the Income Tax Act, questions that accountants might ask and how to answer them or find the information.

He has always been kind that way.

A couple of years later, when I moved into a training role with Carswell, I was privileged to meet Murray's dynamic wife, Shelagh. As long as I have known Shelagh, I have been inspired by her enthusiasm for life, her determination to meet challenges head on and her intelligent approach to solving problems and coming up with the best possible outcome for all parties. I remember one particular occasion when we were at a law librarians' conference in Victoria. Five of us broke away one evening and drove to Sooke, where we feasted on an extravagant dinner served in an elegant, well-appointed inn with lush gardens and dazzling ocean views. Shelagh, of course, had found the place and determined that this would be a celebration - of her 50th birthday, of friends, of life.

I have enjoyed many chats with both Murray and Shelagh. Fast forward, though, to last July and Carswell's annual Stampede luncheon. 

Shelagh had been having trouble with her back. That day she walked slowly, with a cane, Murray assiduously beside her. She was scheduled for back surgery, she said. Hopefully that would fix whatever had been ailing her for a while.

But she didn't quite recover as hoped. And in November came the call: our dear Shelagh had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. 

The world seemed to stop that day. But Shelagh being Shelagh, she scraped together enough strength and grace to write a message to her community. Part of what she said was this:

We all face the same end - I just have a shorter timeline. And because of this I really will not put off to tomorrow things that I want to do today.  I want to  be really clear regarding my position on this ugly disease : I am LIVING with ALS - I am NOT dying with ALS.  And I intend to keep the life in my living. I want laughter and beauty and all the good things life has to offer.

She has kept her word, proceeding to fill her life with beauty, with friends, even with trips and adventures. 

The reason she can continue to live life to the fullest she does is due in huge part to Murray. Murray has managed to get them to Tofino, to Mexico, to treasured getaway places. He's pulled off birthday parties and celebrations. He is at her side when she goes for appointments and he is her number one advocate.

His open anniversary card to Shelagh on the occasion of their 37th wedding anniversary hints at the depth of his love:

All of a sudden the thought of cards, expensive jewellry and gifts, champagne  and fancy meals, mean nothing.  It is the time together which is priceless ... 

Shelagh has become a face for ALS, participating in a registry and bravely being interviewed by a local Calgary news program in June. (To the right of the news article you will see a link to a short video - click on it to hear Shelagh in her own words.) 

Although other people pushed Shelagh along
Betty's Run for ALS, she wanted Murray
to cross the finish line with her
She also participated in Betty's Run for ALS this summer, and she and her Green Team under the captaincy of Murray raised $38,285 - far and away the top fundraising team effort of the event! 

This year Murray came to the Carswell Stampede luncheon by himself - Shelagh was in the hospital, undergoing a procedure to insert a feeding tube in order for her to consume enough calories each day. Murray attended the luncheon because Shelagh wanted him to. Carswell was going to donate money in Shelagh's honour to the ALS Foundation and she and Murray had decided that he would be the face for Shelagh that day.

We had a wind tunnel set up and Murray rounded up the troops to grab the monopoly money flying around in it - money Carswell exchanged for real money for our donation. He spoke movingly about this disease and Shelagh's valiant dealing with it. 

Shelagh is no doubt the face of ALS for our area. A braver woman I have rarely encountered. But, like a coin, Murray represents the other face - the face of the loved one who would do anything in his power to relieve and restore his beloved but who can only watch and care for and live with her, laugh and cry with her, treasuring each moment and seeking to raise awareness and support so that people in the future can have hope for a cure.

Today is Murray's birthday and I want to say happy birthday, dear friend. Your commitment and love are a beacon and the everyday courage you display is inspiring. May this year be one of much accomplishment and joy!


  1. Thankyou Karyn - this is such a precious birthday gift. And thankyou for being such a dear friend!

  2. “Beauty will save the world…” and nothing is more beautiful than two people who love generously.


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