Janet Murray

Janet (Jen) Clark Murray (née Ritchie)
14 March 1899 – 4 January 2007

Tim Keeler, Grandson-in-law

Jen Ritchie was born on 14 March 1899, in the reign of Queen Victoria. Her long and eventful life quite unbelievably spanned three centuries. She was the daughter of Laurence Ritchie and Mary McDonald, of the village of Dalserf, and was the youngest of six children. Jen was baptised by the minister of Dalserf church, the Reverend Dr William P. Rorison, who had himself been born in the reign of King George IV, back in the 1820s.

By her own account, Jen had a happy and contented rural childhood. She attended Dalserf school for a while, and then later, at the age of twelve, she attended the Shawsburn school. Both schools required a walk of a mile or so from home.

Even at an early age Jen displayed her unselfish nature when one day there was a bus crash up on the main road, and an injured mother and her distressed daughter were helped to the cottage in Dalserf village. Seeing how upset she was, Jen with great sacrifice gave away her favourite new doll to the little girl as a measure of comforting her. This sense of caring for others was to show itself time and time again throughout Jen’s long life.

Like most of her contemporaries, Jen left school at the age of fourteen, and by the latter part of the First World War she could be found working at the Singer factory in Clydebank, inspecting the fabric of aeroplanes before they were delivered to the battlefields. After the war she entered service in Dunblane, firstly with the Mitchell family, who were well known at that time as Glasgow ­tobacco barons, and then later with John Reith, who ultimately ­became the first director general of the BBC. She would recount how on one occasion Mr Reith nearly fell off his chair when she asked permission to change her day off so as to go, believe it or not, to a classical music recital at Dunblane Cathedral.

In time Jen became an accomplished singer and an accompanist at the piano, playing in musical events and concerts in church halls around the area. Music and song continued to interest Jen for the rest of her life, not only through singing in the choir at Dalserf church, but also in attending concerts in Hamilton and Glasgow. Variety and music hall performances were another favourite, and over the years to come Jen always looked forward with great enthusiasm to a visit to Glasgow.

Jen married John Murray, an engineering fitter, in April 1928. John was born at Coatbridge, in 1898, and at the time of their marriage lived at Overton. He and Jen set up home at Waterloo, near Wishaw, where their only child, John, was born in 1929. In 1933, they moved to 1 Kirk Road, Dalserf, the cottage which Jen was to occupy for fifty-five years. In those early days, the cottages were thatched on top and lit by paraffin lamps indoors. Luckily, the two were never brought together, and by the mid-1930s electricity came to the village. Holidays were often spent in places such as Dunoon and Arbroath.

Jen and her husband were from a working-class background, and they had to sacrifice a great deal to enable their son John to attend Hamilton Academy and then later to go up to Glasgow University. But Jen never complained about these things; to her, life was for living and for getting on with things. There was never a dull moment in her company, and she had a great talent for lifting one’s spirits.

At the beginning of World War II, Jen took in evacuees for a while. Over the years, there were many visitors to the village. People who had moved away came back during their holidays to have a look around and catch up on the news. Strangers enquiring about deceased relatives inevitably knocked at 1 Kirk Road, the most obvious and prominent place to start. Jen’s memory was so good and reached so far back in time that it was not long before local historians and researchers became regular visitors, too. She was often asked to give her opinion about long-forgotten people and places. This practice continued long after Jen had retired to Ballantyne House.

Although life was hard and luxuries few and far between, a great deal of time in the village was spent out-of-doors, particularly in the summer when Jen tended the ­garden, growing any amount of fruits and vegetables. Tomato chutney was a great favourite, as was Jen’s renowned raspberry jam. Few visitors left without a jar or two in their bag, and the Murray family could rely upon an all-year-round supply.

Sadly, Jen’s husband John died in the late 1970s, and although she stayed on at Kirk Road until 1988, Jen suddenly announced to the family one day that she had made the decision to move to the newly built Ballantyne House care home. By then she was eighty-nine, and life on her own, particularly in the winter months, was becoming more difficult.

Jen became the very first resident at Ballantyne House and, by chance, her bedroom looked across the fields to the exact same spot where she had attended Shawsburn school seventy-five years earlier. That small coincidence made Jen feel quite at home.

With quiet authority she took on the responsibility of organising the flowers and house plants around Ballantyne House, something she had learned to do over the years at Dalserf church, where generations of Ritchies had served as beadles, gravediggers and cleaners. Like most of them, Jen had been involved on a regular basis since her childhood days in the village. The Woman’s Guild, the church choir and the Red Cross all benefited from her help and support. One wonders how she managed to fit everything in yet still remain calm and composed.

Jen worked hard all of her life helping friends and neighbours alike. She was an early riser, maintaining that it was the best part of the day for getting things done. She often wrote her letters at that time. She was also a great knitter; most of her friends and relatives have got at least one of her tea cosies in their drawer at home. It was also fascinating to watch her skill at crochet work, another favourite occupation.

In March 1999, friends and family were delighted to help Jen celebrate her 100th birthday. She had to have two celebrations as there was not enough room to have all the guests at just the one party. At the Popinjay, Jen stood up for quite a few minutes, ­microphone in hand, delivering her speech in a clear voice as if it was the kind of thing she did all the time.

At Ballantyne House, Jen continued to receive regular visits from her relatives and friends. Many of her visitors were local, others came from farther afield. Some were the relatives of other residents who simply kept coming because Jen had befriended them. She was a great help in assisting newcomers to settle in to their new surroundings, giving them the necessary comfort and reassurance that there was nothing to worry about.

In a way, Jen did that for all of us at one time or another, and although we might believe that this is the end of an era, there will be something of her that will continue to be with us always.

January 2007