Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will know that we usually only post a single article on week-end days. But yesterday I received news that a business friend of many years standing had lost his battle against ill-health and died peacefully in the afternoon. His name was Tom Murray and it’s my wish to celebrate his life by reproducing in full the email that was sent to me. It’s serendipitous that the planned posts by John Lewis for this week-end are aviation related.
On Thursday afternoon the world lost a respected, influential, and creative aviator, one of the “Great Ones”.
Captain Thomas Murray was a pilot, artist, inventor, musician, and father.
A noted jet pilot, he explored the far corners of the globe, mapping out the Canadian Arctic, flying thousands of hours in Africa, Europe, the Himalayas, and the Americas.
Whether flying Gulf streams, Falcon, Hawkers, Learjets or old DC3s, Tom was a pilot’s pilot, the friendly, knowledgeable kind of guy who knew his craft so thoroughly that airmen the world over would “just call Tom”, whenever they needed answers.
He thrilled everyone he met with exciting stories of his travels…
…such as the time he found himself lost while flying over what should have been a large African lake, only to realize the lake had dried up. The only hope of finding civilization was to dead-reckon his way in a straight line and hope he hit the tiny “dot of a town” that was his final destination.
…Or the time his oxygen system failed in the Himalayas at 20,000 feet forcing him to dive the airplane into an 8000-foot valley to find out he was the only conscious crewmember.
…Or the time the entire front panel of his Hawker 800 fell onto his lap during takeoff because someone had forgotten to screw it in.
An adventurer to the max, he was also an inventor and visionary.
Tom took an ordinary problem such as converting hard-to-read aircraft performance charts into easy-to-read tables, and then turned that process into a successful business.
Tom created one of the first electronic documents to find its way into a cockpit – tables of aircraft performance data that minimized the chance of pilot error due to miscalculation that he called “EPADS”.
Constantly working to organize the cockpit, provide higher levels of safety and better information to the pilots, he invented one of the world’s first electronic flight bags, and established the process of managing aircraft electronic checklists, a process that the FAA later modeled their ECL guidelines after.
He joked that the entire cockpit should have a mode that turned it into a simulator during flight to alleviate boredom amongst pilots and give them a chance to train in truly challenging simulations during long flights.
He invented games for children, played flute, and wrote a storybook.
An accomplished artist, he relaxed by attending artist workshops and amazing all with his skill and precision. Just last summer, Tom held his first art exhibition.
His greatest creation with wife Daisy was his son, Thomas Alexander Murray, who was born with the charismatic smile and sense of mischief that characterized Tom at his best.
Tom’s inventions were his “other child”. He would latch onto a design problem like a pit bull.
He cherished the fact that he would uncompromisingly focus on a design and refuse to leave it go it until it was “perfect”, even to his own financial detriment when those around him insisted he was losing sight of the “big picture”.
To this effect, during his last year, he asked me to form a foundation in his name, to offer an annual award (which I’ll see if it’s possible to do)…
“To the individual who focuses on solving difficult problems; who is clearly addicted to finding the solution; who is unrelenting in the face of opposition – which may seem to be (or genuinely be) to their own personal detriment”
Perhaps he wanted an award, he knew he’d win!
Tom was well known for acting as “pilot in command” in his daily life, often forcing people to act “my way or the highway” and insisting that his way was the “right way”.
While this trait was annoying and frustrating to colleagues and friends, what was possibly more frustrating was the number of times one was forced to humble oneself when he was indeed “right”.
In the last year of his life, Tom worked relentlessly to teach others his design philosophy and prepare several of us to run the company he’d created, the vessel that would carry his vision and concern for the safety of his fellow pilots into the future.
Tom loved life and spent his days on a personal mission to make the world a better place, a more interesting place, a more ordered place, a more beautiful place, a more fun place to live…
Tom wasn’t always too clear with his emotions, and though he often maintained a “business” exterior, at heart he was the artist, and his appreciation and depth of love for his family, fellow pilots, and the people who worked for him and with him, his friends — was endless.
You always knew when he respected you, he’d give you a big pilot’s “Thumbs up!”
We will miss him dearly.
Today, we salute a great airman, Captain Thomas Murray.
On behalf of Tom, I know he would wish you a warm, “Thumbs up!”
Charles Guerin President
On-Board Data Systems (OBDS)