A life lived for others

Nan McMurdo as her family like to remember her.

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Nan McMurdo MBE – 7 November 1950 to 12 July 2020


Nan McMurdo died on July 12, after a long and debilitating illness which had confined her to a wheelchair for the last 40 years. Nan was born and bred in the Ayrshire village of New Cumnock and later moved to neighbouring Cumnock, where she and husband Ian raised their family. There, she worked for many years as a teacher, also supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable people on a voluntary basis, despite her serious disability. However, throughout her whole life, Nan spent much of her time on her favourite place on earth, the island of Arran. Nan finally realised her dream in 2007, when she and Ian bought their home in Kildonan. Despite her advancing illness, Nan continued her voluntary work on the island, and in 2015 she received the MBE from the Queen. Her last few years on Arran were among the happiest of her life. Nan had lived her dream.

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One of the saddest things for me about Covid has been having to deal with grieving families remotely. Yet often the challenge of putting down in print the details of a loved one’s life has produced some wonderfully poignant stories and so often tales of daunting challenges overcome, such as the life of Nan McMurdo.

Nan was a lassie from New Cumnock. Her husband Ian relates that though they went to the same school, their paths never crossed until one night at a charity bash in Glasgow. Ian recalls: ‘I spotted this beautiful young girl dressed in her granny’s nightdress and asked her up to dance. However, I soon realised that asking her out would be a complete waste of time, because if she even remembered her own name the next day it would be a miracle.’ Ian and Nan had met in 1971, got engaged in 1972 and married in 1973. They don’t ‘hing aboot’ in New Cumnock.

Nan was from the very earliest a force of nature … a permanent smile on her face, always larger than life. But that life for Nan was soon to change. Her beloved dad died suddenly in 1975, then she gave birth to her daughter Jillian the following year, only to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few months later. Gone were the carefree days of ice-skating, horse-riding and water-skiing, to be replaced by walking sticks, zimmers and wheelchairs.

After the birth of her son Derek she became heavily involved in the voluntary sector. Everything Nan did was about helping others, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and children with learning difficulties. In 1989 she was awarded the title of Cumnock Citizen of the Year,  even if the awards ceremony was ruined by Ian and Derek moaning all night about missing a live televised Rangers’ match – the pair o’ them never had much sense! A few years later, Ian became a missionary to deepest Dunbartonshire, as our director of education. Many will remember him.

Nan’s ongoing work was formally recognised in 2015, when she was awarded the MBE by Queen Elizabeth II. The award was for ‘Services to Disadvantaged and Vulnerable People’.

She was a real battler all her life, especially for others. When you met Nan, you fell in love with her. She was unique, and though she had her own health problems, that was never the focus of your attention. It was on this vibrant force of nature that charmed you, challenged you and after speaking to her, the overwhelming feeling was not of sympathy, but instead one of immense admiration and not a little awe. I confess there was a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat when at the end of the service her favourite karaoke song …Da Doo Ron Ron … boomed out of the speakers.

Nan McMurdo did not lose the battle. She simply retired from ill health undefeated.

                                                                           Rev Ian Miller, Bonhill Parish Church

Footnote: The family would like to indicate that they are in the process of setting up the Nan McMurdo Memorial Fund, the purpose of which will be to provide support to disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Nan’s local communities. For those who are interested in contributing to this fund, details will be made available shortly.


Nan McMurdo as her family like to remember her. NO_B34obit01