Bob McMurray: City of Surrey’s 2017 Citizen of the Year

Accountant and veteran volunteer keeps art in the picture
Bob McMurray | Photo: Chung Chow

When he was growing up, Bob McMurray had aspirations of becoming an artist. He enjoyed painting and the creative freedom that came with it. However, there was one small issue.

“I’m colour blind, so I couldn’t really imagine a strong career there,” said McMurray, who recently won the City of Surrey’s Good Citizen Award for 2017.

Luckily, McMurray’s high school principal in Richmond – McMurray, who was born in 1940, has lived all over the Lower Mainland – was also the school’s counsellor, and helped the teenager find a more suitable career path. McMurray scored high in actuary skills on an aptitude test, so his principal suggested he meet with an accountant to see if he liked the vocation.

McMurray said there were other influences at play in his decision to pursue accounting.

“The reason I picked it was nobody knew what it was, and they earned a lot of money.”

After graduating from high school in 1958, he headed to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to receive training through the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

In 1964 McMurray was set to write his final exams before graduation, but an accounting firm came calling.

What would eventually become McMurray, Roberts, Heming & Wyborn wanted McMurray to take over for an accountant at its Cloverdale office.

McMurray said that, back then, the number of Fraser Valley registered accountants could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

“They asked me if I’d like to take on the office on the Friday before the exams,” he said. “And the Monday after I wrote the first paper, and then moved out to Cloverdale to take office before I’d gotten my final results.”

He passed, and his career started. McMurray said Surrey was predominantly an agricultural community at the time, so he helped a lot of farmers complete their financial returns and sort out the business side of agriculture.

He noted that while some unaccredited freelancers were available to help people prepare their tax returns in those days, McMurray was one of only a few licensed tax accountants in Surrey.

Business was good, he said.

In the 1980s, his work started to become more complex. Farming families’ businesses were branching, and Fraser Valley’s financial sector was starting to blossom.

At the same time, McMurray started serving as a volunteer on various boards in the area, including six years on the Peace Arch Hospital board of trustees, 10 years on the Cloverdale Board of Trade, 13 years on the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission, 13 years on the Surrey Museum and Archives Community Advisory Board and 16 years on the Surrey Parks and Recreation Commission. That is just a highlight reel of McMurray’s volunteer work. He has sat on at least 50 boards and committees through five decades, which includes his work with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C.

When he received his Good Citizen Award from the City of Surrey, Mayor Linda Hepner called him the “personification of community service” and noted he has helped shape Surrey for more than half a century now.

McMurray, who’s had a front-row seat for Surrey’s “evolution” from agricultural suburb to bustling metropolis, has maintained his dedication to the city’s arts community.

He didn’t let his colour blindness keep him from starting a painting career in 1974 that has led to numerous exhibitions, the publishing of books featuring his work and a longtime role as an art instructor. McMurray has chaired various arts committees and has volunteered for the Federation of Canadian Artists since 1979. He is still a member of the Surrey public art advisory committee, the Surrey cultural grant task force and the Surrey cultural development advisory committee. When it comes to painting, McMurray said it is entirely separate from his professional life as an accountant – and that’s what he likes best about it.

“It’s an entire world you can lose yourself in. It’s almost like a psychiatric rest.”

McMurray, who has been officially retired for 12 years and has been with his wife, Laurie, for 35 years, said it’s hard to pick one aspect of his life that he’s enjoyed the most, but watching his community grow from small town to big city is one.

“I always felt a person should give back to the community they’re living in,” he said. “I think the key word for everything I’ve done is always volunteerism.”

Inside Information: Bob McMurray

Currently reading:
A mystery novel by Daniel Silva

First album bought:
A long time ago but probably something by the Beatles, perhaps Abbey Road

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up:
A salesman or a race-car driver

Profession you would most like to try:
That’s hard – I’ve been an artist for the last 13 years and can’t imagine starting a new profession – I have my art and community work

Toughest business or professional decision:
Having to lay off a great employee in the recession of the early ’80s

Advice you would give the younger you:
Quit smoking sooner

What’s left to do:
Travelling and boating

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