Tribute to Murray Thomson

by Ernie Regehr

Murray Thomson 1922-2019

 Murray Thomson was our friend, colleague, and mentor. He had the good fortune to lead a very long, productive, and exemplary life, and some of us had the very good fortune of sharing elements of it with him. The following brief tribute acknowledges his central role in launching the initiative we know as Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and celebrates his life of activism and optimism in the face of the challenges that he felt so deeply. The way in which we truly honor him is to continue to pursue the kind of world that he imagined and never stopped pursuing.

In the many conversations, stories, and recollections we’ve already had in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of our friend and colleague, Murray, one thing that keeps coming through is that all the phone calls, emails, and visits with Murray seemed to be in roughly equal measure expressions of warm encouragement and pointed admonition.

He was of course extraordinarily supportive to all his friends and co-workers, and he was just as impatient about the letters not yet written, the funds still to be raised, and the new proposals insufficiently embraced. And what, we’ve had to confess, was just a little disconcerting was the obvious fact that, even in his 90s, he was still setting the standard for commitment, energy, and stick-to-itiveness.

He modelled a life of commitment and high expectations. That covered active engagement in a wide range of causes aimed at human and planetary betterment, and while he was the progenitor of countless organizations and initiatives, those exemplary qualities shone through with particular intensity in his advocacy for a world without nuclear weapons – for a world, as he argued the case, with the wisdom and enough basic sense to turn from the insanity of looking for global security in weapons dedicated to destroying it.

His attention to nuclear disarmament came into sharp focus in his work with Project Ploughshres, which he of course co-founded, in the build up to the United Nations’ First Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. He toured the country spawning civil society disarmament groups from Victoria to Halifax, and in the decades that followed, nuclear disarmament remained a central theme of his tireless work.

In a fitting final act, a decade ago he embarked on a campaign to invite distinguished Canadians who had been honored as recipients of the Order of Canada to join a call to challenge successive Governments of Canada to undertake a major initiative in support of nuclear disarmament. To date, substantially in response to Murray’s countless phone conversations and emails, still offering that compelling combination of warm encouragement and pointed admonition, that disarmament call has now been answered by 1035 recipients of the Order of Canada.

He is remembered by many for his sense of humour, but it wasn’t so much that he was funny but that he was in relentlessly good humour – upbeat and eager to get at the jobs before us. And those jobs were many, ambitious, and daunting. Murray nurtured in himself an unusually visceral sense of the perilous state of the world – the threat of sudden and cataclysmic nuclear disaster, the slow and inexorable drift toward a climate change tipping point, the seeming frailty of our collective commitment to basic rights and reconciliation, the persistence of systemic economic disparity and poverty at home and in the world at large. He felt it all, deeply, and yet he met it all with his equally unusual energy, resilient optimism, and a seemingly endless fount of good humour. He never seemed to doubt that all those impending and already present disasters could be overcome if enough of us simply got at it.

And now, though we’re saying goodbye, our friend has not been silenced. Our inboxes are still replete with his ideas and proposals. That indefatigable optimism still buoys us. We continue to be bolstered by his encouragement and admonished by his impatience. And some will even go on repeating the bad puns and abundant jokes.

Ernie Regehr