She fixed war planes, reared a family, raised sheep, cattle and flora, worked to protect the environment and served the community in leadership position on a variety of boards.
On Wednesday, Jean Brundred “Bunny” Murray, 91, matriarch of the Murray family of Panorama Farms near Earlysville, will be laid to rest in a private ceremony.
The wife of former Del.James B. Murray, “Bunny” Murray served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as an aviation mechanic and later as an officer. Moving to Earlysville in 1953, she helped run the farm, rear eight boys into men and served the region as a member of the boards of the Piedmont Environmental Council, The Environmental Defense Fund, The Rivanna River Basin Roundtable, The Albemarle Garden Club, Martha Jefferson House and The Hospice of the Piedmont.
She served on the University of Virginia’s Human Investigation Committee and volunteered for Meals on Wheels, the American Red Cross and Trousdale Home for Boys.
In 1995, the garden club gave Murray its de Lacy Gray Medal for her “total devotion to a better world” and Murray and her husband jointly received the Paul Goodloe McIntire Award from the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce in 1991.
Murray’s eight sons grew up to become doctors, lawyers, corporate executives, farmers and entrepreneurs.
“Even when she still had five or six kids in high school she was going to the UVa hospital and volunteering as a ‘pink lady’ or driving people to the polls to vote,” recalled her son James B. “Jim” Murray Jr. “She felt that if you don’t do something to contribute to the community you live in or to help the needy, you are falling short of your duty as a citizen.”
“She touched many lives,” said Mickie Wood, who served with her in the garden club. “She was an environmentalist and conservationist before it was popular. She was a plainspoken, quiet lady, but very, very strong and an inspiration to many of the members of the club. She was an inspiration to me.”
Bunny Murray was born in 1920 in Tulsa, Okla., and lived all over the country. She graduated from Chatham Hall in 1938 and attended Vassar and the University of Pittsburgh where she majored in art prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The attack led Murray to be one of the first women to join the Navy’s WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
Given the Navy’s standard aptitude tests — women had not previously been involved in the military — Murray showed an aptitude for mechanics and was trained as an aircraft technician. She later attended officer candidate school and received a commission.
“The thing about her was that she was a liberated woman before there was such a definition,” her son recalled. “She dropped out of college to join the military. She and my dad moved to a farm although they both had grown up in sort of high society and they made it work for themselves and the family.”
She reared sheep, raised flowers and crops, could run a tractor and fix it, too, her son recalled.
“She had small hands and I have small hands and she taught me to work together with her when we raised sheep,” her son, Jim, said. “Sometimes in birth a lamb will get stuck and you have to do a hand delivery and you have to have small hands for that.”
Murray was a member of the Contemporary Club, the Charlottesville Investment Club and Farmington Country Club. She played tennis and bridge, painted watercolors, hiked, fished, traveled and cultivated her flower gardens on the landscape of Panorama Farms.
“She didn’t just join the club and enjoy tea and cookies, she got her hands in the dirt,” Wood recalled. “She was a true gardener. She and [her husband] Jim could have lived an opulent life, but they lived a simple, but gracious, life and were in love with nature.”
“She was an amazing woman. I remember the tractor breaking down and we’d go to the John Deere dealership and she’d go around the counter and show the parts manager what generator she needed for what tractor,” her son recalled. “When we moved to Earlysville, we were a mile and a half off the state road and that wasn’t a gravel driveway, it was dirt. After a hurricane she would drive down that driveway in the station wagon full of kids and it would sometimes get stuck in the mud. She’d have to go back and get the tractor to pull it out.”
Bunny was preceded in death by her son, Dr. Robert Latham Brundred Murray, and her brother, Larry Brundred.
She is survived by her husband James B. Murray as well as by her children James B. Murray Jr. and his wife, Bruce; Matthew B. Murray and his wife, Mary; Christopher B. Murray and his wife, Debbie; Stephen M. Murray and his wife, Merrick; Andrew B. Murray and his wife, Pam; Thomas A. Murray and his wife, Laurie and Timothy B. Murray and his partner, Tom.
She is also survived by 23 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“She didn’t tolerate doing a sloppy job and it had a big influence on her sons,” Jim Murray said. “She believed in being honest and believed in loyalty, honesty and doing your best. Those were important to her.”