It is with profound sadness tinged with blissful joy that we announce the peaceful passing in the early morning hours of September 6, 2012, of our beloved friend and father, Murray Anderson.
Born in Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba, on October 26, 1925, Murray was the son of Peter and Martha Tomko, who died in childbirth. He was adopted by Haraldur “Harry” Anderson, co-owner of Thompson and Anderson, a dry goods store in Winnipeg Beach, and his second wife Valgerdur Oddson, both of Icelandic ancestry, and was welcomed by eight Anderson siblings. When he grew older, he became acquainted with his Tomko family.
Murray showed an early interest in music, performing as a soloist by age six in a community band, singing his favourite childhood tune, “Fit as a Fiddle.” Two years later, he began piano lessons, taking the bus every Saturday morning into Winnipeg with his big sister Marjorie. At age fifteen, greatly impressed with Harry James, he switched to the trumpet.
After graduating from high school in 1941, Murray moved to Vancouver to work at Boeing Aircraft where he installed front gun turrets on Catalina Flying Boats. In 1943, Murray took basic training in Orillia, Ontario, and later transferred to Camp Borden, Ontario, where he trained to be a driver. By that time, the war was winding down, and he was assigned to the Canadian Armoured Corps band where he enjoyed playing all the solos in the six-member trumpet section. Murray played reveille every morning, “just to have the power to wake up everybody else,” was always an eager volunteer to play at church services when some of his buddies didn’t feel up to it, but mostly he joined in meeting troop trains and marching up Yonge Street in support of newly-discharged soldiers.
Beginning in May, 1946, Murray joined three Winnipeg dance bands, playing for dances six nights a week at the Aragon Ballroom. By the 1950s, he was leading his own bands, playing in Winnipeg and surrounding communities, on his own radio programs on CKY and CKRC, and on the road, entertaining throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He was thrilled when his band, the CKY Playboys, was invited to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers whenever they were Grey Cup contenders.
In 1988, Murray moved to Salt Spring Island, following his sister Marjorie and her husband, the late Sydney Sage. Soon, he was a frequent entertainer at private parties, but most people heard him at the Legion or in the clubhouse at the Salt Spring Golf and Country Club, sometimes playing the trumpet with one hand and the piano with the other. From 1996 to 2002, he played piano for dining and dancing at the Harbour House Hotel, always striking up the favourite tunes of each of his many fans as they came through the door.
Until recently, Murray also played at the Extended Care Unit of Lady Minto Hospital, at Greenwoods Eldercare facility, and at Braehaven, where, since 1999, he was joined by Helen Hinchliff. Together, they performed hundreds of popular songs dating from the 1900s through the 1970s for the enjoyment of the residents. In 2003, Greenwoods awarded Murray a special plaque declaring him a “Volunteer Extraordinaire” for his many years of playing for the residents and naming April 24 “Murray Anderson Day.”
In 2005 Murray dusted off his trumpet and participated in a reunion of Winnipeg musicians from the 1950s. The event was hosted by his one-time drummer, Owen Clark, who made this tribute to Murray:
I was very fortunate to have a leader like you as a mentor. [You taught me] the standards, all those tunes you could play at the drop of a hat. I also learned pacing, how to read a crowd, . . . and to update the repertoire [among many other things that]have served me well my whole life and were the basis of my becoming a bandleader. For all these things I thank you.
Murray’s Salt Spring Island friend and fellow bandsman, Denny Thomas, often said that when Murray visited God’s table, he took three helpings of music, but Murray also took two helpings of athletics. He played hockey and golf and was a championship curler and long-distance runner. He was often seen jogging around Ganges well into his eighties.
We have lost a lover, a father, a strong-willed athlete, and an extraordinary musical genius whose love, goodwill, and desire to share his music with others brought joy to thousands throughout his long life. He is survived by his partner, Helen Hinchliff, his son Harold Anderson of Duncan; his daughter Janice (Anderson) O’Leary (Joseph) of Winnipeg; his granddaughters, Mary and Ruth Anderson of Ladysmith; his sisters Marjorie (Anderson) Sage, of Salt Spring Island and Desert Hot Springs, California; Anne (Tomko) Rogoski and Elsie (Tomko) Zelenitsky (Alan) of Winnipeg Beach; and his brother Lawrence (Marge) Tomko of Arborg, Manitoba. He also leaves many nieces and nephews.
A service celebrating the life of Murray Anderson will be held at the United Church on Friday, September 21st at two p.m and a service will also be held in Winnipeg Beach at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Murray Anderson Fund of the Greenwoods Foundation, 133 Blain Road, Salt Spring Island, BC, V8K 1Z9.
We are deeply grateful to the staff at Greenwoods for their extraordinarily compassionate and loving care, not only for Murray but also for us during our week-long vigil. We also wish to thank Murray’s very special doctor, Ron Reznick, for his love and care. Our gratitude and thanks also go to Murray’s caregivers: Jessica Garceau and Maha Price.
Murray’s spirit is singing:
I’m fit as a fiddle, ready for love,
I can jump over the moon up above,
I’m fit as a fiddle and ready for love.
I haven’t a worry, haven’t a care,
Feel like a feather floating on air.
I’m fit as a fiddle and ready for love!
Soon the church bells will be ringing
And I’ll march with ma and pa,
The church bells will be ringing
With a hey-nonny-nonny and a hotch-cha-cha!
Hi diddle diddle my baby’s okay;
Ask me a riddle and here’s what I’ll say
I’m fit as a fiddle and ready for love!
Now he has a whole new audience to entertain.