Since the loss of our darling Mother I have wanted to write about her, but the feelings are too raw and all I can say right now is that grief is a much more confusing process than I had imagined. I thought it was just sadness and gloom but it’s like being bounced around the inside of a pinball machine.
But I have been getting the most remarkable eulogies by email and I want to create a space — under this article — where we can collect up some of this warm and loving material. If we don’t pro-actively collect these tributes they may get lost in the fast flowing currents of modern communication.
If you knew Stephanie, or even just met her once, please would you add a comment below here — an anecdote would be nice, or a memory (even a feeling) as short or as long as you like. My friend Tom Wilson only met her once (in Romania) but he was moved by her interest in his Dad’s unpublished novel. What may seem silly and inane to you might be a real insight to me. It’s all helping me get to know the breadth of my mother’s influence.
It’s really quite remarkable what an impact she had on so many people; to me she was just Mother; I had no idea she transformed so many lives, inspired so many people, was so widely admired — and I don’t think she knew it either as she was very humble.
I want to share with you three messages that I got by email soon after her death. These were the messages that inspired this idea of collecting these tributes
The first one came from Alexander McCall Smith who said “She was one of the most exceptional people I have ever met.”
Then my friend Gardner Molloy wrote to me. Gardner is an artist who carves in stone, lives along the coast from Edinburgh and creates wonderful sculptures for buildings. He’s also a remarkable (but unpublished) writer with an imagination that reminds me of Alasdair Gray. He wrote of an incident I have long since forgotten but it sounds familiar as this is now my approach to cooking:
“I will never forget turning up at society [our house] with you one evening
to find there was no food in the cupboards whatsoever
and her sending you all out to pick armfuls of nettles
and then making a big pot of delicious soup
literally out of nothing
and feeding us all
total earth mother”
My final message offers an insight into her impact on Scottish publishing. The email came from Michael Wigan who used to stay with us when we were kids, and it was only recently that I found out he’s a writer (he wrote a fascinating book about salmon). This is what he sent me:
“She broke the mould in Scottish publishing and I remember well how her innovation, sheer go-and-get-it brio, just swept everyone away in her path. More than a breath of fresh air in rather staid Caledonian publishing, she was a whirlwind. Her charm turned scowling misogynist monosyllabic authors inside out, into grinning schoolboys. I remember everyone did what she wanted, however improbable, without hesitation. Above all, writers were published who would not have been without her, and new reputations made. She galvanised Scotland’s literary culture.”
If you would like to read more, here you can see her obituary in The Times and here you can see a wonderful account of her life by the good folk at Publishing Scotland.
Now it’s over to you. I would really appreciate it if you could share your most joyous, funny or ridiculous memory of Stephanie. It would be a shame if all this wonderful material, this outpouring of love for an exceptional soul, gets lost among the ceaseless chatter of daily emails.
And remember, you can write as much or as little as you like. Whoever you are, if Stephanie touched you, please leave a note here. It’s all valuable.
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My Dad read out this poem as part of his eulogy at my mother’s funeral:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
By ee cummings
It is a great pleasure to look back and remember Stephanie.
She had one of the great names: Stephanie Wolfe Murray. Who can better that?
She was the most beautiful woman I ever looked upon: far more beautiful than the photos suggest she was.
She did wonderful things in the world – with her family – with Canongate Press – with writers an thinkers – with the broken, the dispossessed of the earth.
And, in the world’s terms, how foolish she was! In my case, recognising and supporting my writing at a time when no one, at least anyone in authority, did. In 1981 I took my ideas about a book – on meaning and symbolism in the art of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald to Stephanie, in Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh. I projected slides. We talked for hours: she was entranced and enchanting and immediately committed herself to publication of a major hardback book, ‘worthy of these artists and this revelatory approach’.
Such support at such a time was life-affirming and creatively crucial. I was extremely busy but struggling on all fronts – trying to support a young family, fulfil the demands of a full-time teaching post, chair the Scottish Sculpture Trust (then overseeing the creation of the Hugh MacDiarmid Memorial Sculpture in Langholm and a major Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy) whilst deeply immersed in making the unfunded documentary film (HALLAIG, about the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean). Canongate had published MacLean’s Spring tide and Neap tide in 1977, recently launched Alistair Gray’s ground-breaking novel, Lanark – now they would publish me.
Stephanie shared various interests, not least an enthusiasm for the culture of Scotland’s Travelling people. In 1976 I had made a film THE SUMMER WALKERS about the Highland Travelling people (with Hamish Henderson), and Stephanie was soon developing plans to publish a ground-breaking series of books by the great oral storyteller Duncan Williamson (with his American wife Dr Linda Williamson). We never ate a restaurant meal but, for fifteen years ran in harness together, and I remember Stephanie saying something that no one else has ever said (or would dream of saying!): ‘Tim, you are a man at the height of your powers, you must work – and I shall see your work published.’
She had a generosity of spirit, rare in our reductive times. With pride she told me of her husband Angus’s decent, from the Murray in whose arms General Wolfe died on the Heights of Abraham, in 1759: the young General, knowing he would die without issue, asked, with his last breath that his dear friend and his second-in-command should take forward his name. James Murray thus became James Wolfe Murray, for all eternity. Stephanie’s sense of historical responsibility was balanced a literary, artistic and personal commitment that embraced a willingness to risk all without fear. Looking back at her stable of writers, the words of Joseph Conrad echo in my mind: ‘Not the least glory of the Navy is that it understood Nelson.’
Completion of my book, entitled PART SEEN, PART IMAGINES: Meaning and Symbolism in the Art of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Mempes Macdonald, advanced slowly because of my teaching and film-making (The Tree of Liberty, Time is a Country, Play Me Something, Journey to a Kingdom, Walk Me Home), but Stephanie, never chided or lost faith. Finally, with my film career in well-orchestrated ruin, the book came out in a rush in the spring of 1994. I was angry, Stephanie had refused me the right the to check the proofs! Why? Because she knew Canongate was about to be declared bankrupt and if a week had been spent on proof-reading, the book would never have appeared! Her’s was the Nelson touch! Here was heroism, action, the moment realised. I shall be ever grateful to Stephanie for her bold selflessness at that moment of extremis.
When Canongate was reconstituted, Stephanie ensured that my second book, THE SUMMER WALKERS, was also published, and it soon became one of a Quintet of books on C20th Highland Life. After that our paths divided, but I was delighted in 2016, when my eleventh book, THE DAY OF THE MOUNTAIN (a book of drawings) was launched at the Royal Scottish Academy to see her there at the launch. Her presence gave me the chance to publicly honour her and thank her for what she done – for me, for Scotland, for human culture and mankind.
In the 1960’s Hamish Henderson wrote: ‘Scotland hates and fears its creative writers. Why is there here this conspiracy of the old against the young – which you get everywhere – but which with us is so blatantly tyrannical? It goes back to the fantastic theocratic tyranny of the C17th and the attempt to divide the nation into a small, elect elite and the damned mass… But Christ died for all men and Scots literature arises out of the whole people.’ Stephanie helped put that old barbarism to bed. The cultural energies abroad in Scotland today owe much to her, and she embodied something that Henderson also observed – that greater political and cultural courage has often been shown by Scotland’s women than their menfolk: ‘the general picture is one of almost masochistic apathy and defeatism’. He recognised these women where heirs to ancient Celtic traditions of thrawn assertiveness, whilst their menfolk, in tune with modern mores, continue to accept subordination – to feudal chieftains, kirk, party, state and property.
‘The folkways of a millennium continue,’ Henderson notes, ‘passing an Act to abolish the heritable jurisdictions (of aristocrats, chiefs and lairds) does not mean that you get rid, automatically, of the mental attitudes involved, either on the victim’s side, or on the side of the judges. Reading the accounts of some of the Clearances one gets an impression of the ritual of “pit and gallows” still in operation and the luckless clansman waiting to be topped by the chief’s crochadair…’ Sixty years after those words were written, strong women dominate even more absolutely politics, broadcasting and culture across Scotland: unfortunately, very few of these new chieftains have the poetry of mind, the nurturing goodness, the creative flair of a Stephanie Wolfe Murray.
Stephanie had fey personality, very British/Welsh/Hebridean features but she was very conscious of her privileged, London, home-counties background. The screen-actor Richard Todd was a close relation and such connections did always help her situation in Scotland. This raises questions, both silly and serious. Of course, Scotland must be Scotland but Scotland must not be induced to so much feed off what the past hands down that Scotland’s new leadership destroys not just the British state but Scotland’s own psychic well-being. There is a scent of this problem in one of the pieces written after Stephanie’s funeral. Susan Nickalls, in her excellent and deeply felt letter of remembrance, suggested there was a ‘strangeness’ in the choice of one of the hymns sung at the funeral service in Peebles, This stranger was William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’. Why should ‘Jerusalem’ be thought a strange choice: even ‘if somehow’ Nickalls thought it ‘appropriate’?
How can one of greatest poems, songs, hymns in the English language, written by a visionary poet born in London, sung at the funeral of Londoner, be considered strange? Yes, Stephanie was about to be buried in Scotland. Yes, she had married a Scotsman. Yes, she gave birth to four Scottish boys. Yes, she had lived happily in Argyll, in Edinburgh, in the Scottish Borders, but, surely, we display a poverty of sensibility and imagination if we cannot sing her – in the great metaphors of William Blake – sing her in a context at once English and sublime beyond nation or reason, in Scotland and everywhere.
Scotland must reassemble its ability to speak (and sing) the name England without contempt, or ‘the subservient folkways of a millennium’ will be replaced by an intellectual sclerosis that will condition, to humanity’s loss, the span of the new millennium we have entered. We must uncouple the acidia of our navel-gazing times and seek to build the ‘New Jerusalem”, here in Scotland’s green and pleasant land. Stephanie was above such oraculat self-wounding, above the nurturing of scar-tissues best left in that era of chimney sweeps and dutiful crochadairs.
To finish I will quote the words of another Londoner, writing about two artists driven to extremis, Charles Rennie Mackitosh and Margaret Macdonald. Two artists driven out of Scotland in 1914, never to return. The words are John Berger’s and Stephanie published them as an “afterword’ in my book PART SEEN, PART IMAGINED and what Berger says about the art, the life, the loves of CRM and MMM shines a vivid light on Stephanie and her role in the world, her neglected role.
AFTERWORD: The Haunted House
To describe the fascination of this book I need to turn words upside down. I see my friend, Tim Neat, who has written it, working as a detective. Private, of course, nothing to do with any Constabulary. Solitary, not so much by nature, as by destiny. His stance to the world that of an anarchist. Methodical, nevertheless, and persistent, with an eye for detail as befits a private detective. When he wants to ponder, wants to get to the bottom of some enigma he’s come across, he goes swimming. In the past there have been many sailors in his family. Yet Tim Neat became a film-maker and here, in this book, a bogey. What’s he investigating?
This is where I have to turn words upside down. Neat is investigating not something illicit but an achievement. An achievement for a long time overlooked, and often worked on in secret.
The achievement in question is not the main oeuvre of Charles Rennie Mackintosh – his architecture, his furniture, his decorations. Mackintosh is at last being recognized across the world as a designer of genius. The necessary research there has been carried out.
The achievement that interests our investigator is the mysterious collaboration which occurred between Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald. The love affair (much of it painted on paper) of two artists.
He follows them like a sleuth to discover not scandal but love. And love when it occurs and persists between two practicing artists is a question of each protecting the acute vulnerability of the other.
If I may invent an image which might have come from one of their paintings, it would be: two candle flames, each with a pair of hands protecting not itself, but, in the gale of the world’s commerce, the other one. He’s slim, Neat – as his name suggests – and he slips between doors and through windows to get to the darkest recesses where the two flames burnt brightest.
What exactly were Mackintosh and Macdonald collaborating on? The simple answer is a number of watercolours painted between 1892 and 1900. Yet, through these paintings, they were inventing together a vision of the world; they were constructing their own working space, which, because, they were artists, was also their living space. They were making a kind of spiritual home, a house without walls. And this house of theirs was haunted.
Here is the second time I have to turn some words upside down. There house was haunted but they welcomed, encouraged, and enticed the ghosts out of a strange love of life.
Part Seen, Part Imagined as well as being the title of Neat’s investigation, is also the title of a watercolour and how apt a description it is of the experience of seeing a ghost!
Fairyland (another word which often enters their titles) is also ghostland. Orphelia, transported drowned, is a legendary ghost par excellence.
Tombs, bones, the underworld (in the sense of a world buried under the earth), walls, the coming of night, hanging sheets – everything was there in their watercolours to make the haunted house.
The real houses Mackintosh made, however, were vital, reassuring and life-enhancing. To understand this paradox you must read Neat. If necessary swim out to sea with him.
nted house was the human body haunted by its own sense of immortality. Everything in their paintings refers to the body – either internally or externally. A kind of physical passion fills every corner of them. Yet the stuff of this passin instead of being sensuous, voluptuous, resplendent, is thin, serpentine, and mercurial. The passion which fills them is not that of the flesh but of the ovaries and spermatozoa.
The key words are resurgence, regeneration, seeding. Flowers, trees, bulbs, plants were for them more eloquent about their mutual passion than any human gesture. Botany replaces biology. The liquids of their passion were assimilated into the sap of the tree of life!
Vines and flowers invade their haunted house. And growing there, they proved there was nothing to be frightened of.
Despite the many signs of death, it’s not a crime Neat has solved but a riddle of hope.
John Berger, France, 1992
Since writing this afterword I have read Gleason White’s first public review of the work of the Glasgow Four. It appears in The Studio No 45 in December 1896. The instinctive response of our two minds, across a hundred years, is so similar that the validity of Tim Neat’s approach is doubly confirmed.
‘The Misses Macdonald show so much novelty… that the “Spookey School” is a name not wholly unmerited. Can it be that the bogiest of bogey books by Hokusai has influenced their weird travesties of humanity? Or have the shades, whence came the ghostly drawn figures, with pained faces and sadness passing words, afforded them special inspiration? It is hard to consider the work of these sisters without referring to that of Mackintosh.
‘In each, lines which impress you as symbolic, and part of some strange system of magic or ritual, are the chief features, but these combinations of lines generally reveal themselves as crowned by faces of weird import… But what has a well intentioned spectator left to say? The Rosetta Stone was the key to Babylonic cunieforms, yet you and I are probably no better equipped for decyphering their mysterious characters. No doubt in Glasgow there is a rosetta Stone, which makes clear the tangled reading of these designs: but it would be hazardous for the average person to suggest their interpretation. One thing however is clear, that in their own way, unmoved by ridicule, or misconception, the Glasgow students have thought out a very satisfying scheme to puzzle, surprise and please. Therefore it were more wise to wait, and if one does not grasp, to give them the benefit of the doubt, and conclude that possibly the fault is divided between the artists and the critics, and that sometime hence, when the sheer novelty no longer amazes, a set purpose may reveal itself…
‘If the said artists do not come very prominently forward as leaders of a new school of design peculiarly there own, we shall be much mistaken. The probability would seem to be that thoae who laugh at them today will be eager to eulogise them a few years hence.’
Sad artists with a Rosetta Stone – and Tree: there we draw the line.’ John Berger, 1994
It is 24 years since that book was published. It was reviewed with general enthusiasm but it should surprise no one, who has read so far, that, since publication, no one has raised a question, or expressed any opinion about the multifarious ideas John’s Afterword contains… Indeed raised, to my knowledge, any question about any idea in the book! Scotland, once the best educated and most intellectual nation in Europe is, today, amongst the worse educated and the least intellectual. Everything discussed here, today, whether it be publishing, Crimea, strawberries, Brexit, or Care in the Community, is discussed as if it were gossip overheard behind glass… O the list, in modern Scotland, of those laughed at, despised and forced penniless out to far places is long, too long: CRM, MMM, Herbert MacNair and Frances Macdonald, Marie Stopes, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Hamish Henderson, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Alastair Gray, Stephanie Wolfe Murray: O but Stephanie you lived and lie in the best of company. We salute you and thank you: for the hand you offered, the bread you offered, the stones you set aside.
16 hrs · Havana, Cuba ·
Walking up st leonards bank to see Stephanie was always a heart warming, and enjoyable event. Like arthurs seat that looked on to her house we thought she would be with us for ever. Trying to describe
Stephanie you end up having to trace the story of your life.
She was my greatest inspiration.
I loved Stephanie as I love Jim Haynes as I loved Jan Fairley as I love Arthurs Seat as I love Carlton Hill as I Iove the Botanics, as I love her family as I love the sea as I love how the Edinburgh Festival used to be.
Stephanie was the wisdom, the kindness, the conscience, the guru, the spirit of Edinburgh, she was everything to me.
She enthused, encouraged, supported every humanitarian, artistic, endeavour we were ever mad to take on in every way. She was a champion of protecting precious human lives and supporting the forgotten, disenfranchised and neglected.
Going to see her was like going to a sacred wonderful secret magical place.
The walk to her house past the police station, past the carpet shop, to overlook the crags, the amazing landscape, walking past the dodgy gate with the overgrown bush, finding the secret place for the key, reading the ring of bright water poem on the wall, the spindly giacometti sculpture, the room with the unmade up bunkbed, the spiral stairs, the smell of coffee, the shower room, and then there in the kitchen was Stephanie with her smile and hospitality and interested questions and her tobacco and paper rolling machines and envelopes and magazines and books everywhere.
Stories, advice, passion, laughter, compassion. With her you felt you could change the world.
And we tried.
We shared an office in Jeffrey street with Connect and Gavins record shop which didnt open very often. I shook cans to collect money for Scottish European aid on every street in Edinburgh.
She was the reason Rocky and I spent two years working in refugee canps in Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia doing theatre workshops and crazy puppet shows.
Stephanie was the reason we enteted Sarajevo to make an opera with Professor Nigel Osborne.
Her son Moona welcomed me into Tuzla where we played american football as the shells dropped down around us.
Rupert, Kim Sobhano, Gavin became great friends, second family and drinking pals in starlit and rainy nights in the botanics.
Stephanie in Edinburgh was the lifesource.
We all know what she did, who she was, and how we feel about her
Words are useless.
The force of Love can never be stronger for what the world felt for her.
We can try to achieve a glimmer of what she achieved or a shadow what she dreamed of achieving but the reality is she was a saint, a force for good, unique and no matter what we say or do, her place in this world can never be filled. There will never be anyone like her.
Her smile,her laughter, her voice, her wit. Her phone number at St.Leonards bank is the one phone number I can always remember.
Wouldn’t it be great if one day we could all meet again? If we dont, well, meeting Stephanie and her wonderful family in this life was enough, remarkable joyful hilarious inspiring unforgettable and priceless.
A life so well lived, she created a wonderful crazy world-changing family and she set a great example for all of us.
So many memories, never to be forgotten.
Stephanie, forever in our hearts.
That piercing stare on our first meeting in Mitrovica, Northern Kosovo is a stare never to be forgotten. I spoke about it at Stephanie’s funeral. It was so penetrating that I felt maybe I might be in for a rough ride if I didn’t come up to scratch as the newest volunteer for a large EU funded reconstruction project just at the end of that particular war. Would I be useful or useless?
Fortunately it seemed to be the former. Stephanie set me many tasks over those months – sometimes she took me with her to some emergency out in the destroyed villages and like other testimonies in this blog, her driving was different to put it mildly! The Kosovan roads at that time were terrible – bone crunching – vehicle shattering. Despite this Stephanie attacked them in the true belief that to surf from one stony hillock to the next at very high speed, was the best way to tackle this problem. Who was I to argue? She was my boss! Most of these journeys were spent airborne and the car was always missing parts on arrival – parts that had been hanging on for dear life since the previous nightmare ride. It was her desire to get to a problem quickly – to get it sorted – to bring help to those needing it that I’m sure manifested itself in these death defying rides!
After long days out in the ‘field’ dealing with all sorts of problems, we volunteers would return to our digs exhausted, sweaty, hungry and just wanting to relax, wash and eat. However Stephanie gained an admirable reputation for always being there for the countless victims of this terrible war and we would be inundated during the evenings with people coming to the house seeking help. She never turned anyone away. We were less charitable at first but we learned from her.
I shared a room with her for a long time and we would lie in bed, me exhausted and trying to drift off to sleep with Stephanie still discussing the myriad of problems needing to be dealt with – the endless number of individuals needing urgent assistance and what she should do next. She talked long into the night because she was dedicated to this cause. This is how she unwittingly taught me about the job I now do for Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA). I practice all those things I learned from her – except the driving! Stephanie was the one who dramatically changed the course of my life in 2004 when she took me round to Denis Rutovitz, Chairman of EDA and told him ‘use her, She’s good’. And Denis did! I’ve never looked back.
She has continued to be greatly interested and supportive in all the work I do for EDA in various parts of the world and we remained close friends over all these years.
I have such happy memories of time staying at St Leonards Bank, The Laundry House and Glen Lude. So thanks comes from me too Steph as well as from all these others I read on this blog and no doubt countless others far and wide. I too will miss you loads.
She was so generous it was like a trick, a sleight of hand. Such was her lightness of touch. She had such a full and busy life yet stretched it even further, a sort of miracle. I recall her rushing upstairs to put an electric fire in my room when i unexpectedly stayed the night in London. Once at Glenternie when young i looked after Sandra Tarnowska’s baby Kai all day. I was at the end of my tether and when Stephanie came home she showed me how to place a grape on baby’s high chair to distract him. When my first book was published a black comic diary about having breast cancer, she came to help with the launch. I didn’t even realise till later how helpful she had been, she made it seem fun. I so admire her for her achievements with Canongate which she took on with no experience. I like to renember her just after the birth of Gavin her third boy, nursing him in bed at Glenternie. She seemed very happy. I read Jeremy Fisher to Kim in French! Rupert was wandering round in nappies. He looked most like her. I never got to know Moona. What an extraordinary person Stephanie was. I feel privileged to have known her. I am Tessa’s oldest friend and so glad she introduced me when we were teenagers.
I first met Stephanie on Saturday the 15th of February 1975. I had just landed a job at the Edinburgh repertory theatre, and my brother Nick had suggested I ask the Wolfe – Murray’s to put me up for a few days. So, on that memorable Saturday I turned up at Glenturnie in my clapped out Morris traveller, and stayed – not for a few days – but for 3 whole months!
I had – and have – never been welcomed so unconditionally by anyone in my whole life. I was being engulfed by a hurricane of confusion and misery at the time and here I found shelter from the raging storm; and Stephanie was at the very epicentre of that restorative calm. I can truly say that without her and Glenturnie I might not have been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course there was also Stephanie’s amazing family who were quite extraordinary in their welcome too: Angus, Kim, Rupert, Gavin and Moona (and not forgetting the dogs: Flora and ….? )
They all took me in without so much as a blink of an eye, as if I had been their long lost and dearest friend. My time there was like a rebirth and thanks to it I learned how to take a few tentative steps into the world again. I learned so much it is difficult to list it all, but here goes: I learned how to cook and eat Haggis, I learned how to put wet clothes on a washing line, (by the end of 3 months Stephanie said I was the only man she knew who could put washing a on a line correctly!) I learned how to use an antique lawn-mower, I even learned how to remove the gearbox from a Morris minor with a pickax! I learned how to play poker, (which I hated as I witnessed Stephanie and Angus turn from angels into devils!) and above all I learned how love can heal, how patience can replace fear and how to accept the love of a true ‘mother’ even when we are long out of our swaddling clothes……..
One of my great regrets in life is that I never thanked her appropriately or repaid her for her overwhelming kindness …… (How ungrateful we can be when we are too wrapped up in our own sorrows!) But I can find comfort in the certain knowledge that Stephanie will have forgiven me, because giving was part of her very nature – and she gave without ever asking anything in return; it just flowed out of her. If I could, I would bless her days on this earth – but I suppose I will have to leave that to a higher authority!…
Dear Angus, Kim, Rupert, Gavin and Moona I know that you will be living in the shadow of incomprehensible pain and I know that there is nothing that I can do or say to make any of it disappear; all I can offer you are these few words from Aeschylus: “Even in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our despair, and against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
I send you all my fondest, fondest love.
Jo Blatchley (The old, bald, fat one; not the young, tall, slim one!)
I’m so very sad to hear of Stephanie’s passing. I was fortunate to have her as my first proper ‘boss’ in the early 1980s at the Scottish Publishers Association, and then again in the ’90s when I edited for Canongate. She inspired a generation of Scottish publishers and her generosity, dedication, creative flair, charisma and literary acumen were astonishing. She discovered / championed so many fine writers … Alasdair Gray, Alastair Reid, Sorley Maclean, Charles Palliser … too many to list … and she knew how to nurture the design of beautiful looking books … she had wide tastes – natural history, poetry, biography, art, children’s books and more … And she was an incredibly brave publisher (Jimmy Boyle, Gorbachev’s letters), far more concerned to publish ‘important’ books than to reap financial reward from them. She initiated the Canongate Classics series (over a hundred titles went on to be published), so that key Scottish texts could be available in affordable paperback for Scottish schools and universities – also so that they could be appreciated by readers internationally (her charm and sales technique at international book fairs was extraordinary) … she also started the Kelpies children’s imprint … she was helpful to other publishers, from the Salamander Press to Polygon and others …truly the guiding light in the renaissance of Scottish publishing a generation ago. Post-publishing, that same intrepid spirit was transferred to her charitable work in eastern Europe. Above all, she was a wonderful person.
Stephanie and I attended the Moscow Book Fair in 1983 (pre-glasnost) on behalf of Scottish publishers. We were invited by the Publishers Association in England. The Russians always had a fondness for Scotland, they adore Rabbie Burns and it rather suited the PA to have the SPA on-board. Not unusually, with so much else going on in her life, she was somewhat disorganised and hadn’t packed sufficient clothing. I discovered this when we arrived at one of those huge hotels in Moscow, the Rossiya, where both of us delighted in having conversations by the bathroom sink with the water running so that no-one could hear what we said about the Soviet Union. As if our conversations were top secret! This was the Cold War era and there was much Western fear… I was able to lend her a couple of skirts and shirts to wear, but my shoes didn’t fit her. First day of the book fair she was bedecked in fairly tatty trainers so our delightful translator, Natasha, arrived the following day with shoes for her to wear. At this time, the locals were desperate for Western clothing (particularly brands like Levis and tights), so it was deliciously ironic that a local Muscovite was helping Stephanie in this way. In charge of the Publishers Association at that time was a chap called Tony Read. Late one evening, Stephanie and I decided to visit him in his hotel – it was quite tough gaining entrance to this other hotel, but Stephanie has her ways and charmed the grim-faced officials to let us in. On arrival at Tony’s room, we discovered his assistant, utterly hysterical, because Tony had done something to his knee, was in excruciating pain and he didn’t want her to call a local doctor. Without a moment’s hesitation, Stephanie inspected the knee and simply yanked it back into position. Tony screamed in pain and yet … she’d sorted him out. He was later very thankful.
We were at the book fair to sell translation rights of Scottish books to Russian publishers, and possibly to purchase licenses for Soviet books to be translated into English. One of the books we’d sent over never arrived at our stand though – this was UNLIKELY STORIES, MOSTLY by Alasdair Gray. Tony asked if there was something about it which might have upset the local censors – indeed, we suddenly remembered there was a dog fornicating with a woman on the spine… so much for selling that one, then. We did however end up signing multiple ‘option agreements’ at the end of the fair – at each half-hourly appointment that day we were required to down a shot of vodka with the local publisher when doing the signing. This went on all day and whereas I was rather the worse for wear, somehow Stephanie was okay. The Russian publishers’ hospitality was generous on the vodka front, but limited on the food front. They offered caviar or ghastly, over-salted fish. Trying now to recall which books were optioned is a bit difficult – a Scottish cookery book published by Canongate definitely; a collection of Scottish short stories, a book on Burns … there were many others – some of them Russian books for translation into English and I think this included a book of Armenian recipes which Stephanie may indeed have gone on to publish. Few of the options came to anything (VAAP, the Russian copyright agency of that era, apparently liked to announce at the end of the fair that xxx options had been signed, hence a successful far ) … of all the options, about 10 years later the short stories were published in Russian and about 5 years after that, payment may have been received. So saying, Stephanie was a superb ambassador for Scotland and Scottish books and charmed many publishers at that book fair.
We returned to the UK not by British Airways (as planned) but by train to Finland and a flight from Helsinki to London. During the book fair, which lasted about five days, a Korean plane had been shot down, creating diplomatic difficulties between Russia and the UK … at a drinks reception at the British Embassy one evening, we were discreetly informed by smooth-toned British embassy staff (it was terribly cloak-and-dagger and rather exciting) that there were now no flights out of Moscow to London, and we’d have to take a train to Helsinki. Tickets had been purchased, everything arranged and nothing was to be said about it to any Russian publishers. So, once the fair was finished, about 50 British publishers duly boarded a train in Moscow for the overnight journey to Finland – 12 hours or more. We were armed with caviar sandwiches and bottles of vodka that had been gifted to us by local publishers and were all a bit nervous, tired, and in varying states of inebriation from that excruciating, i.e. vodka-sodden, final day of the fair. Shortly after the train left Moscow, a huge battle-axe of a woman, terribly stern, came round to check our passports and visas. Stephanie couldn’t find her visa and this was the only time, in my experience, that her legendary charm failed to work its magic. This massive, steely-eyed Russian official insisted that Stephanie empty her entire suitcase to look for it – this was in a carriage with bunks containing several other passengers. Embarrassing and rather worrying. Stephanie kept her cool though, as the contents of her case were unveiled to all and sundry. The caviar sandwiches were there (caviar was made available throughout the fair, and she wasn’t going to waste any of it!), very few clothes, many Russian books (but thankfully no Russian icons, which were expressly verboten), and lo and behold the visa was eventually found. After that, we could all relax that Stephanie (and the rest of us!) had successfully managed to stay on the train leaving the Soviet Union. Much vodka was then consumed, songs sung and it was great fun. Uptight English publishing folk who never usually let their hair down, were singing harmonies or adding rude words to songs for hours and hours. There was no food on the train, just the sandwiches and I could taste that damn caviar in my mouth for days after wards.
Stephanie was great company always, never a dull moment, and I will miss her dearly.
Unforgettable. Yes this was the Stephanie I was to come to know. A feisty,but highly intelligent, independant woman whose heart was full of exceptional humanity and sincerity. She tackled life in the fast lane, and similarly she drove her carsin the same way at brake neck speed through Edinburgh traffic or the windy Borders lanes yet we still reached our destination safely. Throughout the 13 years I knew her, we shared many memories and confidences. A holiday in Montenegro taking Jackie her dog to the vets each day after a road accident ,gardening at Glenlude, catching mice in the polytunnel. Or simply during my visits making a pot of nettle soup whilst she attended to all the ducks, geese and chickens. My last memories was helping her to make several batches of cake for an event at Traquair last July before I flew back to Canada. However on my return in April this year her life was slowly ebbing away, but throughout her ordeal her strength, courage and undying love of her children and grandchildfen was phenomenal. I will miss her companionship and friendly banter so much. RIP Stephanie. Thank you, you have given your grandchildren , confidence, dignity,inspiration and a purpose to their lives.
I met Stephanie on the eve of her wedding to my brother Angus.
She was 20, I was 11. I loved her straightaway.
From then on, I spent most of my boarding school holidays in their home. Never did she make me feel I was the cuckoo in their nest. I played with the babies,fed them and changed nappies. Stephanie showed me the best way to love children and be a mother.
We learnt to cook together. It was the 1960s. Garlic,herbs,spices,wine and cream had arrived in Britain. Len Deighton, the crime writer, wrote a weekly recipe in the Sunday Times illustrated with witty woodcut prints of the ingredients. We started with Oxtail Stew then Chicken Paprika. We became more adventurous; Calf Brains swimming in cream and spices. We didn’t tell Angus till after he’d eaten them. He ran out of the room. Was that the moment he turned vegetarian?
Like everyone, I will miss her.
What wonderful tributes, both touching and insightful. I would go even further, and state that, even though mostly from afar, all around her people were helplessly in love! her magic only slightly dimmed when she was no longer young – but as for when she WAS young! (see the video). Every kind of man – men of all ages – she couldn’t help it – was simply enthralled. And was there a single woman who didn’t want somehow to be like her? There were Stephanie clones all around her. She had everyone under her spell, and drew everyone into her world. She, and Angus, the children, the homes, the endeavours. It was an amazing, incredible world. Innocent but at the same time seductive and as dangerous as quicksand.
Hers was an extraordinary power, a force of nature, and so much of it she put it to wonderful use. She took on every challenge. Nothing she wasn’t equal to!
And for a lovely woman who had known so much admiration, she bore alone-ness, ageing and, finally, illness with inspiring, unforgettable dignity, integrity and generosity of spirit. Throughout her life she was enormously, stubbornly positive and brave.
So in love with life! – and it is so awful to have to understand that she is no longer living. How can the world be without her. I shall miss her all my days – but so grateful I knew her. She was so generous with me. I was very young, and so much of what has mattered to me in my life is coloured by what she taught me – I only wish I had managed to hold on to more of it.
Stephanie was both the exception to every rule and the exception that proves every rule. Yes, life sucks; no, life is a beautiful, crazy adventure; yes, our culture is falling apart; no it is coming together in new and exciting ways; it is impossible for anyone to change the world; it is totally possible for everyone to change the world.
Stephanie changed the world, and saved and enhanced the lives of many thousands and hundreds of thousands of people in the process, But typically, this was not a selfish, individualistic or ego-driven endeavour. Stephanie took us all with her. She was at the epicentre of an extraordinary vortex of positive, compassionate “can-do” energy, a gentle hurricane of pragmatic ethics which she summoned from somewhere in the skies to hover over Edinburgh, drenching us, at times tossing us around like confetti, but blowing us towards dazzling sunshine.
In the early 1990’s Edinburgh was a special place to be. I was lucky to be caught up in Stephanie’s vortex. I can remember than in 1992/93 as the genocide unfolded in Bosnia, Edinburgh became, in Stephanie’s perfect storm, perhaps the most important centre for civil action in the UK. Stephanie had founded Scottish European Aid supported by her sons, Denis Rutovitz and Jeanne Bell had set up Edinburgh Direct Aid, Ricky Demarco had launched the campaign for the Sarajevo Obala Theatre and Gallery, Willie Macnair had set up Sarajevo-Edinburgh, and Susan Nickalls and I, supported by Henrietta Somervel had founded Scottish Action for Bosnia – and there were many, many others.
Our efforts benefited from an informed and engaged media; these were banquet years, when Magnus Linklater edited the Scotsman, and writers and broadcasters like Allan Little and Sheena McDonald, or Paul Harris at Scotland on Sunday produced real, empathetic, tell-it-as-it-is journalism. We were a mutually supportive, completely functional eco-system driven in large part by Stephanie’s clean, eco-friendly energy. Humanitarian and human rights efforts in other centres were blighted by divisions and dysfunction. The unprocessed and unresolved emotions of the war spilled over and poisoned personal relationships and dissolved group cohesions. But not in Edinburgh. Everyone remained loyal, trusting and supportive of one of the other. In the challenging meteorology of Stephanie’s vortex, we picnicked amicably together under our umbrellas. Visiting Bosnian politicians and incoming refugees all commented how “together” our campaign appeared to be and how much at home they felt with us.
In some senses I didn’t know Stephanie very well; in other ways I knew her very well indeed. I flatter myself by claiming that our lives rolled out to some extent in parallel. I wish I had known Stephanie and Angus better when they were founding Canongate. I think of myself, rightly or wrongly, as a creative artist and would have loved to be closer to something that certainly changed the world – at the very least the world of Scottish literature.
Later our synergy and synchronicity needed no words. When I would meet Stephanie at the most harrowing moments of the war in Bosnia, she would look at me with her beautiful “I’ll-help-you-in-every-way-but-please-be-honest-with-me” eyes, and her eyes would say, “”It’s tough isn’t it, Nigel, but let’s keep going,” and my eyes would reply, “Yes, let’s keep going – and it’s much easier to keep going knowing that you are around, Stephanie.”
The exceptional nature of Stephanie’s life could attract clichés. It would be possible to see her sad passing as the “end of an era”, an era which embraced dignity, altruism, courage, human service and bold imagination. But that would be wrong. Although her generational travelling companions are crossing the thresholds of three and even four score years and ten, she has a brilliant youthful legacy.
The brightest of the bright of young people who fell under her spell carry her special energy: artists like Roxanna Pope, Toby Gough and Conrad Molleson. And of course there are her gifted sons and grandchildren. I do not know Kim and Rupert very well, but see from a short distance away the human grace, and the creative and spiritual authority with which they live their lives – in every way their mother’s sons. Magnus (Moona) has become one of the world’s most skilled and effective aid workers. I occasionally bump into Magnus in various far-flung places and catch the exhilarating spin of the vortex. Gavin has inherited the creativity, the pragmatism and indeed the versatility of his mother, multitasking as record producer, natural philosopher and film cameraman. I think of Gavin as a real friend, and am lucky to have worked with him making prize-winning films with Samir Mehanović, and to have travelled with him through some of Europe’s most challenging landscapes.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote of the poet Sergei Esenin “What a thunderbolt of talent the Creator must have hurled into that cottage, into the heart of that quick-tempered country boy for the shock of it to have opened his eyes to so much beauty”. It makes me wonder what kind of thunderbolt was hurled into the heart of this well-mannered, well-brought-up would-be debutante
to set her alight with the most powerful forces of nature, a fiery, “earthy” democratic spirit and the most vibrant of humanity.
Amazing to read the tributes and tales of a fabulous woman who I knew in the abbreviated decade that I lived in Edinburgh in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I first knew Stephanie through Canongate, and was involved in various projects and proposals, some books that never came to light, some free lance editing, some volunteer work. I was always invited to every book launch and found Stephanie so welcoming to me always, inviting me around to the evocative St Leonard’s home with every shade of hospitality, being often rewarded with stacks of books from the Canongate depository which spread throughout the city .. and later seeing her at parties at Lunga in Argyll where she always took on the washing up jobs, no matter how daunting they were. Such a great spirit, inspirational, chaotic, brilliant, and open to everyone. I last heard of her heading off to Romania to help in an orphanage with her sons … I am sorry we never met again, but I am proud to have known such a great woman as Stephanie Wolfe Murray. Her legacy goes far beyond her publishing realm to a world spirit of dedication to humanity, to do whatever is needed to help the world and relieve its suffering. Always with a smile. Bless your being and your life, Stephanie. Thank you.
Stephanie told me a story once about how as a young boy, you would never sleep in a bed but always somewhere unconventional (and uncomfortable). She described how you marched into the house one day, grumbling about not having had a pillow in the shed where you had spent the previous night, then picking something up and declaring “Ah, perfect!” before leaving again. As you passed, she noticed that the perfect pillow was a brick.
Another story she told was about Gavin climbing out of his pram where he was having an imposed daytime nap and walking two miles down the road wearing only a nappy. There was snow on the ground and he was brought home by the neighbours who had found him and knew whose child he was.
I also remember Stephanie showing me the painting of your house (the one near Manor Water?) and pointing up at the castellations and saying: “That’s where I used to find them… terrifying”!
When she told these stories you knew that despite her dry delivery, she was so pleased with and proud of her boys. When we were next door in SLB and I was struggling with my first baby, she was so kind and supportive – how I envied Monica her amazing mother-in-law.
I had a strong affinity with Stephanie that never waned over the years. I felt that the hug she was giving me when we would meet after a long absence was an acknowledgement of that. Sometimes I thought I may be filling in for her absent sons, one of whom was in a monastery and two in faraway countries. I felt I was sharing with her thoughts and feelings that she wouldn’t be able to share with her own sons. She had an aura of empathy and mystery at the same time, that made one feel so good and elevated in her presence.
I remember vividly all my sojourns with her and Stewart at St Leonards Bank in the 1990s. It was such a warm (figuratively, as we will see later) and welcoming house! Especially the kitchen was always full of people and cats. The three then existing grandchildren were there most of the time, their mother, father and grandfather sometimes, and always some strangers, new friends of her sons, from exotic places like Romania, Bosnia or Albania.
I was fond of every corner in that house, of every chair, carpet and bookshelf. I knew where everything was in the kitchen, especially the bread and the butter, the comfort of a hungry East European before the dinner that Stewart or some other volunteer would be cooking. Because Stephanie, unlike her later years, was too busy with more important things.
I was always sleeping in the same room, next to the kitchen, and always staying in bed late, not able to leave the Canongate book I had started the night before, but also not very keen to leave the warm duvet and venture out into the corridor and bathroom. Until Rupert or Stephanie would lose patience and come in with an inviting cup of tea.
All family and close friends know that regardless of the season (which actually makes sense in Scotland), Stephanie’s bedroom window was always two inches open. And so is that of the Queen, as I was to find out later. Coming from a slightly warmer climate and having some Mediterranean roots too, I used to sneak from my room into the kitchen at night, after everybody was in bed, and turn the central heating up a notch or two. Invariably, when I was getting out of my warm bed the next morning, I knew the dial was back to normal. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Stewart who was doing it!
I used to love looking after Stephanie’s cats when there was nobody home. I lived in nearby Bernard Terrace amid noisy students, and loved the homely tranquility of St Leonard’s Bank. Even the bathroom was beautiful, with a big Georgian window and a black and white photo of a striking woman, who must have been Stephanie.
At Canongate I remember we worked with an artist called Chad who produced beautiful wood cuts for Duncan Williamson’s Tales of the Seal People. Canongate was a tremendously inspiring place to work. I was fascinated by Stephanie’s many friends and her handsome sons. I still remember seeing Rupert for the first time, standing in the office in Cosack trousers – recently returned from 9 Months in Tibet!
Something that Stephanie gave me is a certain toughness. I remember being ill and feeling sorry for myself at work, and Stephanie telling me the tale of a woman prisoner who did her make-up every day to keep her spirits up. I have not forgotten that, and many a dark morning I have stubbornly put my make-up on and gone to work.
Rupert, please add the following final sentence to what I have just submitted:
The two years I spent with her at Canongate were pivotal in my life, and her friendship a great joy. She was, and remains, a beacon of inspiration for me, one of the warmest and most remarkable people it has been my pleasure and privilege to know. Stephanie’s memory will live wherever I live.
Beyond these evocative anecdotes and memories, I wonder if there are any plans for a book celebrating Stephanie and her achievements. What could be more fitting? With contributions from the many many writers, poets, artists, and designers who worked with her and who loved and admired her – new works inspired by her memory and infused with her spirit, the publication possibly financed by private subscription. If so, please put me on a list of subscribers, and I’d be happy to help in any way I could.
Thanks to Stephanie
We had already met several times. One day, I went to visit her at home in the Scottish Borders, a remote house up a long bumpy track set amongst hills and moorland. Sheep cluttered the landscape and a couple of horses of non-thoroughbred appearance (though I am no judge) seemed to be waiting for something emotional to happen. An seemingly disaffected young man (later identified as her charming grandson Aidan) frowned at the distant bracken. It was as if the Brontes had moved a hundred miles north.
Stephanie was making lunch or perhaps it was brunch. Clearly, the ingredients had recently been garnered from the kitchen garden and were waiting by the sink to be washed, chopped, peeled or crushed. I offered to help and found myself sat at the kitchen table, shelling peas. Several friendly dogs of uncertain provenance came to watch. I had come to discuss the book that I had been writing and the possibility of its publication. Sitting on the chair next to me a beady-eyed rooster, possibly a Rhode Island Red, nodded a careful tally of every pea.
Stephanie kept rushing to the room next door to locate books, usually poetry, that she wanted me to see or read. There was soon a pile of slim works beside the pea shells. Stephanie, her hands still green from pulling spinach or some such, knew where to find each poem she wanted me to see. Her pointing fingers sometimes left a vegetal mark on the page. Her knowledge of literature was huge and her eye for a good poem unerring. She should have produced an anthology I said,, it would have been a steal.The rooster clucked approvingly. Later we talked publishing and Stephanie offered her help, which was to lead to a published book one year later.
That afternoon, we went for a short walk, finding and collecting hens eggs and more vegetables in unlikely places along the way. Everything was of interest. Whatever we saw, met or heard merited consideration. Any topic – politics, literature, refugees, work or mutual friends could be discussed with Stephanie – you could talk forever.
My visit to her that day gave me great hope and encouragement and I am sure she gave the same to many others. I will not forget it and I hope I can pass on her example to others. She would want it like that. Thanks, Stephanie.
She came on a literary scene that was pretty fusty, bursting with brio and ideas and energy. In the early Canongate days she was a whirlwind, juggling 4 children all sons, commuting from Glenternie in the Manor Valley south of Peebles, and running a full and busy home. It seemed never to occur to her that something was not do-able. She could get friends, bystanders, or anyone within range, to do anything. If Stephanie said go and rob the bank we need money for lunch, you would unthinkingly proceed with the instruction thinking how sensible. Using charm, humour, and mischievousness she got her way without ever seeming to have a firm idea of what it was in the first place. She drove at speed in a severely eroded car through the floor of which you could see the tarmac inches away whizzing below. The children, three of whom were in their teens, sprawled around in the back like so many dogs, in fact along with dogs. For someone who promoted so many authors and handled so much literature it is amazing that she never seemed to read. Canongate gave aspiring writers a voice. If fund-raising for the business was ever needed she could raise money effortlessly — or so it seemed — knowing, along with the bohemian crowd, some industry leaders. She was often late and in a rush and no-one ever seemed to hold it against her.
I knew her and her family well for a short time when she was in her thirties and starting Canongate. She was firing on all cylinders at that time. Since then I never saw her so these memories are mid-Seventies.
Granny was great. I remember when she told me stories about different journeys she did.
She had a life that we will all remember. I remember once when she told me she was going to the laundry house and she was tired, but the light from the kitchen was visible, she was just around the corner. And she said to herself “I’ll get there and crash on the doormat”. She woke up the next morning, stuck in a hedge as she fell asleep and drove the car into a bush. She had difficulty getting out but the passenger’s door was where she escaped from.
But now she rests.
Wednesday, 5 July 2017 after days of Biblical rain, the skies have cleared and the sun is out as Nigel and I make our way to Peebles for Stephanie’s funeral. It seems strange even writing those words, difficult to believe that death could claim someone so beautiful, vibrant and full of life.
As we approach the commanding Old Parish Church at the foot of the High Street roundabout, we can see people gathering on the steps. The arrival of the hearse allows us to cross the busy three-way junction and it doesn’t seem real to think that Stephanie is inside. But her spirit is everywhere as we connect and re-connect with people we have in common and share stories about how we know Stephanie. Nigel and I, through the charity Scottish Aid for Bosnia, worked with Stephanie during the Bosnian war, and suddenly the past seems strongly present.
I share a warm hug with Monica whom I haven’t seen since our boys first met as babies in Mostar and later played together as toddlers in Edinburgh. The church fills up with many familiar faces from the publishing and international aid worlds as a string quartet plays beautiful lilting Scottish airs. Other veterans of that unspeakably horrific war file in too: the extraordinary and indefatigable Denis Rutovitz and his wife Jeanne Bell from Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA), Roxanna Pope and Toby Gough who were working with Stephanie at Scottish European Aid. I’ll never forget them ‘appearing’ in Sarajevo during the war as if by magic, arriving through the tunnel with the Mayor of Tuzla, popping up like white rabbits in the antithesis of Wonderland, a besieged city everyone was trying to escape. Nigel recalls how they were swithering about coming and it was Stephanie who insisted that they went. War correspondent Paul Harris, who shared many perilous Balkan journeys with Nigel, is also here. It was Stephanie who published his book Cry Bosnia at Canongate.
We stand to sing All things Bright and Beautiful as Stephanie’s environmentally-friendly coffin, bedecked with the most glorious flowers, joins us. The Traquair Village Choir sings with passion before we hear the moving tributes. Gavin gives us a lively snapshot of Stephanie’s life from glamorous London debutante and magazine cover girl to her adventurous thrills and spills in numerous war zones. Maggie Tookey, who now works in Syria with Edinburgh Direct Aid, also worked with Stephanie. She describes a bone-shaking journey in Kosovo as Stephanie drove a landrover over craterous roads at great speed, as if aquaplaning. Speed is a recurrent theme in many of the tributes, a perfect illustration of how Stephanie embraced life, living every second to the wire.
There is heart-breaking poetry: from Angus, ee Cummings i carry your heart with me; Nikita, Neruda; and Moona, a poem Monica wrote about Stephanie which exquisitely captures her spirit and essence. Whilst on holiday in the Mediterranean with Stephanie and Moona, Monica describes chance meeting with a stern-looking local woman whom Stephanie immediately melted and bonded with, exchanging stories of peaches ‘divino’ and finding out they each had a grandchild born on the same day. It is all there, Stephanie’s boundless curiosity, warmth, love and kindness. This is a constant theme throughout the day.
Most impressive though are her amazing grandchildren: Jude, Lara, Luca, Nathan, Caleb, Aidan, Nikita and Kira, who tell heart-warming stories and make up poems about their granny. Stephanie would have been immensely proud. Rupert’s reading of Song of Songs Set me a seal upon your heart is deeply poignant and the ‘passion’ and ‘flashes of fire’ it speaks about are very apt for Stephanie. The last hymn is Jerusalem, and although something of a strange choice, it feels somehow appropriate. There is not a dry eye in the church before the final blessing as Caleb plays guitar and sings one of his recent compositions.
Afterwards, on the steps outside the church and in the village hall at Traquair, there are further reunions. Ricky Demarco is there as is Tim Neat. He has drawn the most ethereal pictures of Stephanie’s spiritual presence during the funeral. On the walls of the hall are tributes to Stephanie along with some wonderful photographs of her, documenting the various times, and many strands, of her remarkable life. She was, and is, an example to us all of how to live and love selflessly, in the moment, for the greater good. The world is the poorer without her and we shall all miss her.
Usually at funerals, a minister will mutter something pieced together from various people and it never has that veracity of personal experience. And also, for once, unusually, every single word uttered was absolutely true!
I came across your web site incidentally whilst researching the history of you grandfather’s Land Rover. Whilst I never met Stephanie, from what I read, she was indeed a remarkable woman and I was touched by your appeal for anecdotes relating to this inspiring lady.
This one from the Scottish novelist and screenwriter, William Boyd CBE, in a newspaper article from 10 years ago has an evocative description of your unconventional mother.
“It is unusual to be familiar with a novel you are sent to review. Even more unusual, in the case of Lanark, was that I was also familiar with its publisher. In the early summer of 1972 (aged 20), I was living alone in my parents’ isolated house in the Scottish borders – about three miles from the town of Peebles. I was working as a kitchen porter in the Tontine hotel in Peebles trying to earn some money to pay for a trip to Munich (where my German girlfriend lived). Not owning a car or a bicycle, I used to hitchhike to and from work. I was quite often given a lift by a young woman who drove a battered Land Rover (she often drove in bare feet, I noticed, a fact that added immeasurably to her unselfconscious, somewhat louche glamour). This was Stephanie Wolfe-Murray, and she lived further up the valley in which my parents’ house was situated. In the course of our conversations during the various lifts she gave me, I must have told her about my dreams of becoming a writer. She told me in turn that she had just started up (or was in the process of starting up) a publishing house in Edinburgh, called Canongate. I have never met or seen Stephanie Wolfe-Murray since that summer of 1972 (I did get to Munich, though, in time for the Olympics and the Black September terrorist events), and I’m wholly convinced she has no memories at all of the Tontine hotel’s temporary kitchen porter to whom she was giving occasional lifts that summer, but for me it was a strange moment to see “Canongate Publishing” on the title page of Lanark and to realise the unlikely connection – and stranger now to think that Lanark was the book that put Canongate squarely and indelibly on the literary map.”
I believe the Land Rover to be your grandfather’s, one of 2 rare non export models sold new in Inverness in August of 1949. Which, later in 1986, your father sold from Glenternie. Road worthy examples of these early models, intended for the Scottish home market in the first year following its launch, are rare. This one however, has been restored and taking prizes across Scotland as an oldest and well preserved vehicle of this motoring icon, registered in Scotland from the early years.
We have so many fond memories of Stephanie; don’t really know where to start. We first met Stephanie when she just moved into the Glen estate. From then on she welcomed us with open arms into her life. Stephanie never stopped. She never had enough time of day to achieve her to-do list (never a written list). When she was still in the Glen, she’d often pop in for a very quick glass of water or strong coffee and a secret roll-up. One day Stephanie turned up as usual. I leaned over to kiss her. I heard a bird chirping sound quite close, I thought I must be hearing things which is not usual where we live. So there we were chatting away, after the coffee and the naughty roll-up break of about 15 minutes. She announced she is running late for something and must go. Just before she left she asked if I have met Pinky. Who’s Pinky? I asked. Then she put her right hand to the back of her head. Underneath her dark silver hair. She produced a tiny chick. Placed it on her shoulder. Stephanie then said “This is my new friend Pinky, she lives on my shoulder”. Now that had me thinking I need to get my hearing checked. The Stephanie I met was always full of surprises, funny with a hint of mischief. We were so lucky to have her in our lives, especially for my daughter Bronwyn, Stephanie was the grandmother she never had. We will miss her forevermore.
I only have one memory and that was spending the weekend at your house with Dominic May and you. You had been given a crossbow for your birthday from your gran. Your mum very firmly but fairly suggested you would have it back in a couple of years when she realised we intended to go out and play chicken with it. Struck me as a very calm but assertive lady. I recall we subsequently played chicken with an air rifle instead! – it was a great weekend but not sure how all of us survived unscathed. No doubt your mum was keeping an eye on us all but from afar.
I think one of my favourite memories of her was when I went to Scotland to see Lara and she gave us this flavoured water with herbs from the garden or when she took us all to The Traquair Fair, I think she was always an inspiration for me as it was the little things that made her so incredibly unique and I feel so fortunate to have met her .
In early spring, me and my little daughter were introduced to Stephanie by Rupert. After the first meeting Rupert asked if I had any interest in gardening and maybe helping out every once and awhile, planting and weeding and so on. We from then on visited every weekend. I got my hands dirty in the soil which relieved my stress and Alma got to hang out with a house full on fun people and, equally importantly, doggies and ponies.
I felt like I was at home, we were wholeheartedly welcomed into the home of Stephanie and Angus. We had endless chats of plants and plans for the garden, and those were re-energising and grounding. Although the time I spent with Stephanie wasn’t lengthy, it was deep and rich and meaningful, she brought a great warmth in my life and simply made my time in the Borders magic.
I miss Stephanie terribly and find it hard to understand that she is not with us here in her physical self but am sure that she has guarded a few tricks up her sleeve to keep us all on our toes.
I loved Stephanie from the moment I knew her. I remember when she was first at Glenternie, she was so open and friendly and kindly towards me that I felt immediately that she was a true friend, a very special friend and special person. She had that quality, and she was always the same to me throughout the years, and I have always loved her.