Betty C. (Bird) Murray
Native of Cumberland County
Betty Murray, then Betty Bird, was born on March 16, 1923, in Southampton, Nova Scotia, and grew up in Amherst, attending school there. She was the daughter of Ethel (Sutton) Bird and Will R. Bird, who became a well-known Canadian author and public speaker.
Student, Wife, Mother, English Teacher
Betty left Amherst in 1939 to study English at Dalhousie University, where she soon met a medical student named MacKay Murray. They got married as soon as they graduated, in June 1944. Six years later, Betty, MacKay and their young family left Halifax for New York, where MacKay had been offered a professorship at the medical school of the State University of New York. Despite being a homemaker with three small children, Betty managed to complete a Master’s in English Literature at Columbia University in 1953. Ten years later, with a family of four, she started teaching English at Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, becoming a well-loved and respected member of staff.
Retirement: Back to Cumberland County
Throughout their time in New York, MacKay and Betty had maintained their ties with Nova Scotia by building a cottage in Lorneville, NS, where Betty and the children spent every summer. In 1980, the Murrays retired, bought a farm in Lorneville, and returned to Nova Scotia for good. During their long retirement, they became deeply involved in community activities. They both joined the choir of the Lorneville United Church and often hosted gatherings in their home on the Goodwin Road. MacKay volunteered to work on the commission of the Cumberland Regional Development Association. As a former English teacher, Betty enjoyed opportunities to tutor local high school students when they needed help and was asked to judge student writing competitions in the Oxford and Northport schools. Betty also volunteered with the United Church Women and was an active member of a community book club.
In 1984, after her father’s death, Betty donated his extensive collection of books to the Amherst library. These included copies of his own novels and histories of the region, a donation that has fittingly made Amherst Library the largest lender of Will R. Bird’s books to other Canadian libraries. Betty was also, for most of her life, an annual donor to the Amherst Public Library Fund. When she sent off her cheque every year, she would say, “I owe it to them for all the books I borrowed when I was a girl.” Her grandmother, Augusta Bird, was also an avid reader, and always gave Betty and her brother a ‘library ticket’ for Christmas. Library membership was not free in those days.
A Constant Reader and Writer
Betty loved books of all kinds, but particularly poetry and novels. She made a point of reading with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and always gave them books as presents. She was also a lifelong writer of poems and eloquent letters, often sharing her personal insights and feelings, deepening connections with those she loved. She believed that we all have important stories to tell. She had a way of engaging with everyone she met that encouraged them to both share and empathize, which made for many warm and memorable interactions within her community, wherever she lived. She infused these connections with her modern views on activism, equality, and justice.
Closing Life's Circle
In 2009, MacKay and Betty completed the circle of their life together by moving to an apartment in Halifax, where they continued to host friends and family. MacKay passed away in 2013, leaving Betty alone in Halifax. Always ready to help people with a good book, Betty planned to volunteer for the QEII hospital library, where she thought she could spend her time usefully by recommending books to patients. Unfortunately, two bad falls prevented her from realizing those plans. In 2014, she moved to The Mount Continuing Care Community in Charlottetown, becoming one of its first residents. She continued to read the latest novels and give books to family and friends for the rest of her life. She passed away at the age of 97 on October 30, 2020.