Dorothy McMurray

Gatekeeper of McGill

As secretary at McGill, Dorothy McMurray saw it all––every change, every addition to the university, from a private university funded by donations with a few thousand students in the late 1920s to the publicly funded institution with five times as many students by the mid-late 20th century.

McMurray was born and raised in Nova Scotia. In 1917, she assisted with the nursing of victims of the Halifax explosion and then came to Montreal with her husband. In 1929, she received a call to ask if she could go up to McGill for a few days as they tried to find a replacement for Principal Sir Arthur Currie’s secretary. They had already found their candidate in McMurray, who wound up staying for 32 years.

Her one-person office responsibilities, with occasional help from a stenographer, were both vast and varied, including budget planning, keeping of the Principal’s diary and detailed memos to keep him on track for his events, typing his speeches, managing access to the Principal and the press.  Her memoir delivers an intimate appreciation, without any confidence revealed, for the characters of the four McGill Principals she served.

A first-rate researcher, she produced memos on the case of acquiring more funding for the University and the legal history of bequests, for perusal by the Principal. Without her, McGill could not be what it is today.

Caricature of McMurray in her office (March 1947) MUA PR000599 .


Dorothy McMurray at her retirement with husband Alexander McMurray (on the left) and Principal F. Cyril James (on the right), 1962 MUA PR041530​.