Ken Murray! When rugby and leadership blended for a perfect Cup | Sunday Observer

Ken Murray! When rugby and leadership blended for a perfect Cup

5 June, 2021
Ken Murray
Ken Murray

“Tough, fearless and determined. Splendid games record, distinct powers of leadership with a strong sense of human and gay debonair charm,” wrote the Headmaster while the Principal of Trinity in emphatic endorsement also added: “He has made a valuable contribution to the school and I am sure he will do the same for his Country.”

These were the sentiments on Ken Murray’s school leaving certificate as he joined a band of sportsmen in 1961, to pursue a career in Planting. And as expected he took to his first billet on Frotoft Group in Ramboda like a duck to water.

An Incomparable Summer!

It was an era when reputed Agency Houses like Whittalls, George Steuarts, Carsons and Aitken Spence managed Plantations owned mainly by Sterling and Rupee companies a period that was undoubtedly the finest Summer for the industry.

A career had begun for an enthusiastic young man that was to extend to perhaps the longest ever for a Planter in the history of the Industry.

Over 60 challenging years Murray the sportsman climbed the ladder of seniority with distinction on prestigious plantations as Oliphant, Diyagama West, Pedro, Dessford, Nayabedda, Uva Highlands Cluster, Haputale, adding to his role as Superintendent, appointments as Visiting Agent, Technical Tea Advisor and Regional Director.

He has returned finally to bid adieu from his much cherished charge Nayabedde in Bandarawela.

A born sportsman, his skills on the rugby field matched his growing stature in tea and its production while his inherent instinct for fair-play ensured harmony on the properties he served.

Having represented Ceylon at rugby in the mid 1960s Murray also led the Dimbulla Cricket and Athletic Club to the Clifford Cup in 1970,the last time in history that the robust planters’ Club annexed that prestigious Trophy.

In a more leisurely pursuit Murray was president for 12 years and captain for two years at the historical Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, where the prospect of improving on his handicap conquering eighteen holes kept him spell bound!

He also served as the president of the Sri Lanka Golf Union.

Murray’s extraordinary sense of humour, infectious laughter and a strong elbow that held repeatedly refilled glasses steady in hand even when speech got slurred, made him a legend at the many exclusive Planters’ club bars he graced in his career.

A Challenging Autumn

As the mid 1970s approached, there were signs that the glorious Summer was coming to an end and in 1975 the government in keeping with its Socialist policies, nationalised the Plantations.

While professionals largely still continued to manage and administer, the inevitable challenges that government ownership poses in any sphere, heralded the onset of Autumn for the Industry and the leaves began to fall!

These challenges were compounded by insurrections that seriously threatened the lives on Plantations while a barbaric government orchestrated violence in July 83 against its own people, shattered national unity and reduced the Economy to tatters!

The staunch men of the Industry to whom Murray belonged, carried on bravely with devotion to duty undiminished!

Hopeful Winter, early Spring

A sensible government decision in 1992 to transfer management to the Private sector while retaining ownership, ushered a pleasant Winter that inspired hope and optimism! Spring came sooner than expected as a new government elected in 1994, handed back ownership to the Private sector the following year, ironically with the Prime Minister responsible for the nationalisation, holding the same portfolio to support the reversal 20 years later.

That decision promised much for the Summer ahead as Murray settled to serve his new employer the Kotagala and Agarapatana Plantations over the next 25 years.

A return to Summer?

Only he will know if that promised season of Summer did in fact arrive. But in the four he served he was undoubtedly the man for them all.

A romantic marriage lasting six decades will soon be at its end as the curtain comes down as it must, on the Shakespearean world stage that Murray performed with distinction.

The special award bestowed by the Wayamba University in 2017, in commemorating the Industry’s 150th anniversary reaffirmed that.

However, there will be no divorce; Only a parting of the ways leaving a trail of precious memories in lieu of a Diamond Jubilee celebration that Murray earned and richly deserved!

May that special aura of tea that you so devotedly nurtured, surround your retirement too, Ken. Needless to say soul mate Ylva will be at hand to enhance the flavour while the Industry will remain indebted to you my friend, Haputale and I will miss you!

(The writer is a former secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka and a former Chairman of George Steuarts Group of Companies)