In Memory of Val Dan MacMurray

Nigeria Val MacMurray (3)

I attended a funeral today for my friend and colleague, Val MacMurray.  I lived and worked in Nigeria from 1983 to 1987, working for a humanitarian organization called The Thrasher Research Fund.  Val was the director of our program, which was administered by the LDS Church.  We were sent to Nigeria to work in dozens of villages, training village health workers.  We helped in any way we could and did our best to make a difference.  Val cheered us on from Salt Lake as we did our best to do hard things on the other side of the world.

Here are a few photos of some of his visits to Eket, Cross River State, where we lived. 
Above:  Working in the cassava fields with Val.
Below:  Mary Ellen Edmunds, Val MacMurray, Ann Lewis and Bob Briem.Nigeria Val MacMurray (2)

Below:  Val MacMurray and Keith McMullin.Nigeria Val MacMurray (1)

I’ll always remember Val when I consider a poem he shared with me about 30 years ago.  I loved it then, and I love it still.  Today at his funeral, one of his daughters shared a few stanzas of this poem with us.  He had just introduced it to her last month, reading it to her from a well-worn and tattered book.   She was also moved by it.

Here’s to Val, a dear friend, who led a life that ended quietly and without much fanfare.  Only a handful of us came to send him off.  He made some interesting choices in the end.   I hope he finds his peace.  Val–go to your god among the stars, with my love.

The Morning Song of Senlin by Conrad Aikin b. 1889

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Vine-leaves tap my window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
How small and white my face!—
The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
And bathes in a flame of space.
There are houses hanging above the stars
And stars hung under a sea…
And a sun far off in a shell of silence
Dapples my walls for me….

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
Should I not pause in the light to remember God?
Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
To him alone, for him I will comb my hair.
Accept these humble offerings, clouds of silence!
I will think of you as I descend the stair.

Vine-leaves tap my window,
The snail-track shines on the stones;
Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree
Repeating two clear tones.

It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening,
I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
Unconcerned, and tie my tie.

There are horses neighing on far-off hills
Tossing their long white manes,
And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
Their shoulders black with rains….
It is morning, I stand by the mirror
And surprise my soul once more;
The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
There are suns beneath my floor….

…It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
And depart on the winds of space for I know not where;
My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
And a god among the stars; and I will go
Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
And humming a tune I know….

Vine-leaves tap at the window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three dear tones.

Val MacMurray 001

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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5 Responses to In Memory of Val Dan MacMurray

  1. Flora Spackman says:

    Thank you for this lovely tribute. Val was our bishop in Calgary right before he took the job with the Thrasher Research Fund. We have kept in touch with Val and Maryann over the years, but couldn’t make it to the funeral because my husband broke his leg the day after Val died and had to have surgery. (Couldn’t have been worse timing.) Maryann told me that Val’s funeral was ” perfect. ” the photos you posted we’re wonderful. Thanks again for the post.

  2. Charlene Leach says:

    Thank you for posting this. What a small world. You and I sat together in an Education Week class at BYU and the next day you were at this funeral. I didn’t know that we both knew Val and I would have liked to have attended his funeral. When we were at BYU and Cathy was a baby we had about 6 students living with us. We had a large house on University Avenue and rented out rooms. Val was one of our students at the time. It has been a long time since our paths crossed but I knew that he was with the Thrasher Foundation. We always had the highest admiration for Val. He was always so thoughtful and kind. I hope that he and Bill have been able to cross paths in heaven and renew special memories from our times at BYU in the early 60’s. Val would have been one of our “BYU Family Members” and Bill would have been his BYU Bishop at the time. I love seeing the wonderful pictures you posted on the blog. Thinking about Val brings back many warm and special memories.

  3. This is the Eulogy that I wrote and read at the funeral to my Dad.

    They say “You should never meet your Heroes” and no doubt this advice is well founded. In the case of my father, Val MacMurray, over time I came to find, that in so many ways, the opposite of this was true. As a child my father was often gone working long hours to provide for his family. Dad was a man who would not hesitate to face even the most daunting of tasks, and most often the tasks included highly complex dilemmas in genuine human tragedy and suffering. I recall a time, maybe 15 years ago, when my father was himself facing significant personal challenges. It was a low point in his life and his burdenshad in some ways transformed him. It was at some point during this time frame that I had a conversation with him. If I recall correctly, it was an argument of sorts. During our discussion, my dad said something to the effect of “You think I’m a failure.” I was taken back—disappointed. I was disappointed at his loss of self confidence. Immediately I corrected him. I told him that if I lived a life that was half his own, I would consider myself a success—I could only hope to be half the man. This was the humility of my father, the core of his humanity, and the key characteristic that defined him. His love lives eternal—a masterpiece as beautifully exquisite and ornately complex as the finest cathedral.
    The impact of his love guides me as an immortal testament that even now echoes in my heart like thunder.
    He loved his children and all those around him with an empathic virtuosity. A master communicator, he could deftly see into the souls of others, finding the hidden, lost, or even mistakenly cast off treasures of one’s full potential.
    May angels lead you in Dad.


    • Josh, thanks so much for sharing this. I will pass it on to our Thrasher friends who couldn’t make it to the funeral. I loved seeing his face in yours. I loved hearing each of you describe his love for you and your families. I loved how he really did see into each of our souls. I loved your dad when I knew him so many years ago.

  4. Josh MacMurray says:

    Ann, Flora, Charlene,

    Thank you for the kind words about Dad and for sharing your personal experiences as his good friends. All of his family me, Heidi, Maren, Erika, Kai and especially Maryann miss him deeply, but in the best possible way – he left all of us with no words left unsaid.


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