Fifty years after it was first published, Georgina Murray Keddell’s classic biography, “The Newspapering Murrays,” has been re-published in a free ebook version.
The book tells the story of Bridge River-Lillooet News founders Margaret “Ma” Murray and her husband George, who also served this area as an MLA and MP. George and Margaret Murray also founded the Alaska Highway News and an earlier paper, The Chinook, in Vancouver.
Ma Murray gained fame for her spicy wit and backcountry wisdom, while her more refined husband George was a visionary politician with strong ties to the Liberal Party.
Bridget Murray Bird – Georgina Keddell’s niece and the granddaughter of George and Margaret “Ma” Murray – was the driving force behind the effort to make the book available online.
Bridget Bird told the News there were two reasons for re-publishing the book – both involving the Murray family.
The first reason, said Bird, was for the “grandchildren and now the great-grandchildren.
“You asked me what Ma Murray’s legacy was and the answer is zero as far as the family is concerned,” Bird told the News. “She was a working woman who was not really that involved with her family. There was certainly a public legacy when she received the Order of Canada. There was a public persona for her and she made various TV appearances, but the family never really knew her. She wasn’t the kind of grandmother who would make cookies with you and give you home truths. She was busy on a larger canvas.”
Her other reason was to honour the talent and efforts of Georgina Keddell.
Bird says her aunt worked on the family biography for six years, banging out the manuscript on an old Remington typewriter in a shed located in the back yard of the Keddells’ Fort St. John home.
But when it was time for “The Newspapering Murrays” to be published by well-known Canadian publishers McClelland and Stewart, the publishing company put little effort into promoting the book which Bird says had also been “drastically edited and drastically reduced.
“It came out as a skinny, little ratty-looking thing with no pictures. Georgina didn’t even know it had been published – she heard from a friend in Vancouver that it was for sale in Duthie’s bookstore in Vancouver.”
A rueful Bird recalls the book’s less-than-overwhelming reception.
“I remember all the effort that went into it. I was just a kid, all those years ago, but every once in a while, I would say to myself, ‘It’s too bad about that book.’ It was a great book but it never went anywhere.”
Bird’s father Dan Murray published a version with photos in 1974 under the company name Lillooet Publishers.
More than four decades later, Bird decided it was time to take advantage of the technology now available and release the book to new generations of readers.
As editor, she has made a number of modifications to the original.
Those changes include adding a series of Wikipedia links. She explains: “Information that was common knowledge 50 years ago is not common knowledge now. And Grandma and Grandpa knew a lot of famous people at a time when Vancouver was a very small city. Grandpa organized Joe Fortes’ funeral when he died in 1922, but who knows today who Joe Fortes was or who Grant McConachie was.”
She also updated some wording in the book, acknowledging that she removed some phrases that are no longer politically acceptable. “My brothers and sisters said leave it the way it is, but I cleaned it up that way.”
Finally, to ensure consistency, she developed a style sheet for the book, based on the style – grammar, spelling, capitalization, numbers - of the New Yorker and the Globe and Mail.
“That was a huge challenge, because while I was the editor, I was not the author,” says Bird.
She was thrilled when a Murray relative in Ontario read her revised version and gave her approval. “She told me, ‘I can hear George’s voice, and I can hear Aunt Margaret’s voice.’ I thought to myself, ‘I have achieved my goal because I was able to change it and not destroy it.’”
She adds, “If Georgie had at her disposal the technology we have today, that was the book she would have written. I thought the world of my aunt and I thought how sad it was that this book was nothing but trouble for her. And it bothered me for 50 years.”
Prior to publishing the book online, there was one more thing Bird wanted to do.
She wanted someone to write the introduction to her revised version. And not just anyone.
The Alaska Highway News was one of the first newspapers purchased by controversial author and former publishing magnate Conrad Black, who bought the paper from Bird’s father Dan in 1971.
In an audacious move worthy of Ma herself, Bird wrote to Black requesting that he write the introduction. No response.
Then Bird learned that Black would be holding a book signing for his latest book, “Rise to Greatness,” at Vancouver’s St. Andrew’s Wesley Church.
She paid her $25 to attend the reading and grabbed a seat that would place her first in line for the book signing.
“I jumped up, I stuck out my hand, I said ‘I’m Bridget Bird and I wrote you about Grandma’s book and about Dad and about writing an introduction to it.’ I had 90 seconds to make my pitch. He said, ‘Oh Bridget!’ and promised to write the introduction and he did.”
The 2016 “Newspapering Murrays,” complete with Conrad Black’s introduction, can be found on the Apple iBook Store page here: