Last general manager of Glasgow Corporation Transport

Last general manager of Glasgow Corporation Transport

Born January 5, 1917; Died 27 January 2014.

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Bill Murray, who has died aged 97, was the last general manager of Glasgow Corporation Transport (GCT), and was also the last surviving head of Scotland's old municipal transport departments. As such, he was also last to maintain a tradition stretching back into Victorian times of having his name inscribed on the sides of Glasgow buses and Subway carriages.

Glasgow was the final city in the UK to operate trams, and when the system closed in 1962, it was Bill Murray who was entrusted with masterminding the last tram procession.

Mr Murray came up with the clever notion of having Lord Provost Jean Roberts drive the oldest electric tram along the six-mile route. Under his aegis, Glasgow's first citizen took weekly tram driving lessons along Coplaw Street and Albert Drive until she gained enough ability to be passed out with the rank of temporary motorwoman.

The outcome was that Mr Murray and his tiny team provided an unforgettable gala occasion on September 4, 1962 that drew more than a quarter-of-a-million Glaswegians on to the streets. Under cover of night, some two dozen trams for the final cavalcade had previously been taken from Coplawhill Car Works in Albert Drive to Dalmarnock Depot in the east end, and carefully shunted into order for the procession. He also somehow stabled the pair of horses from the cleansing department specially trained to haul the only surviving Glasgow horse car.

Mr Murray, a wartime officer, directed the complex operation with military skill, with Dalmarnock Depot clerk Willie Marr supervising. Detail ran to siting Transport Department breakdown wagons at strategic points should a tram fail.

Mr Murray was also in charge of the massive programme of bus replacement after the city embarked on tramway closure from 1957 onwards.

A further political decision to bring forward the scrapping of the trams from 15 years to five meant a call for sudden purchase of buses - with the result that the existing rolling replacement programme was not only knocked out of kilter, but took some two decades to put back on track. Financial ramifications lasted far beyond the running of the last tram in 1962 and proved an early priority when transport in Glasgow was subsumed in 1973 by Greater Glasgow Passenger Transport Executive (PTE).

Mr Murray's skills were immediately taken up at the PTE by Ronald Cox, newly appointed director-general. "I said I'd only take the job if I could have Bill Murray as my director of operations", Mr Cox recalled.

In a move that typified his character, Mr Murray quietly added a personal role to his new responsibilities - that of integrating long-serving staff into changed ways of working.

To him, GCT would have been nothing without the men and women who staffed it, and for several years after his appointment, he would return late to his Bearsden home after attending meetings and functions, making appearances to maintain staff morale at the city's three dozen bus garages, depots and transport installations.

In 1969 on appointment as GCT general manager, he had done the same circuit, shaking hands with every member of staff he could meet. The abiding memory was the extraordinary number he knew by first name.

A tall, intensely private man, Mr Murray's booming voice and gruff manner disguised a gentle heart thirled to the notion of service, values and fairness.

He was born in Riddrie in the east end of the city, joined Glasgow Transport in 1933 when colour bands identified trams for the routes they travelled. He worked for general manager Lachlan Mackinnon - who in 1927 had taken over from the legendary James Dalrymple. The latter, an ambitious tram man, even envisaged route expansion as far as Edinburgh.

The more practical Mackinnon opted to improve on the existing service, and successfully updated the Subway from a cable-drawn system operating through dank stations to a modern electric railway.

When Mr Murray joined GCT, his first task concerned orders for the then revolutionary subway electrification. His latent managerial talent saw him posted in a junior role in assisting with the consultancy GCT provided for developing the tram system of Oporto, Portugal, as well as being entrusted with the scheduling of brand new Coronation cars for the 1938 Empire Exhibition, trams that were hailed at the time as the finest short-haul passenger vehicles in Europe.

He enlisted at the outbreak of war in 1939, joining the 1st Bn Cameron Highlanders in Inverness, enjoying the dubious delights of a billet in the long-closed Milltown Distillery.

Commissioned into the Royal Signals, he served in India and Burma, reaching the rank of major. In India, he was one of those charged with having to deal with troops hurriedly returned from Madagascar, despatched there to fend off threatened Japanese invasion.

Darjeeling in 1944 proved his first meeting with then Major Tom Fulton - who 14 years later in peacetime became Bill Murray's political boss as convenor of Glasgow Corporation transport committee. The pair remained in aloof contact when Fulton went on to become chairman of Greater Glasgow Passenger Transport Authority, the political arm of the PTE (and still later again, chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland).

Politically acute, Bill Murray was wise enough not to cross swords with politicians although he was not afraid to speak his mind occasionally.

When one meeting grossly overran, he memorably quoted his grandmother: "Nice to see the weans, and nice to see them go".

Mr Murray sacrificed much of his own private time in making GCT work. The onerousness of keeping Glasgow's transport on the move was reflected in the inflexibility of a system under which all investment was expected to be funded solely through fares, a state of affairs many thought was unfairly upheld by local politicians.

Mr Murray had no choice but to make the system work, a task made all but impossible when after Tom Fulton as transport chairman introduced the pensioners' concessionary penny fare, GCT had somehow to make up the shortfall, while Mr Murray's colleagues on mainland Europe gained access to capital injection for direct investment.

Bill Murray took pride in being a long-time Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Transport. A modest man, he was a born wanderer from earliest times, and pre-war, covered Europe by bus and rail during his annual Glasgow Fair Fortnights, developing particular loves for Switzerland and Scotland, a post-war activity he kept up with his wife Margaret until a few years ago he became too frail to travel.

He suffered a stroke in 2004, and though largely housebound after that, greatly enjoyed telephone calls from former colleagues and transport friends.

A committed family man, he was devoted to his wife Margaret, his son and daughter, and his grandchildren. He is survived by them all.