Obituary: Murray McGrath

The Edinburgh optometrist who “shone a light on the path for others to follow” died in December at the age of 84


Optometry Today is sad to announce the death of Murray McGrath, a well-respected Edinburgh optometrist, early contact lens advocate, car enthusiast, and founding partner of Cameron Optometry (previously McGrath & Cameron.)

His long-term friend and former business partner, Donald Cameron OBE, paid tribute:

“Born in June 1936, Murray McGrath was educated at Melville College in Edinburgh, where he was a keen water polo team player and won the annual Crombie Cup as best swimmer of his final year. He carried on that love of swimming throughout his life as a member of Drumsheugh Baths where, even in his late 70s, he was able to swing on the rings from one end of the baths to the other without so much as a wet foot.

“He started work as an ophthalmic optician (what we now call an optometrist) in the long-established practice of his father, W M McGrath in Queensferry Street. After a few years he started to see contact lenses as the way of the future for him and he started a part-time practice on the ground floor of the family home at 4 Randolph Cliff. After a number of years that business grew, and it became his full-time place of work.

“I met Murray when I completed my degree course in 1976. I had to do one year under supervision before being let loose on the public alone and he looked after me for two days a week with, the other three in the family practice up the road. By that time W M McGrath was retired and Jimmy Duffy and Sandy Bovaird took me under their wing.

“Over the next four years I learned from Murray about how to maintain high standards of care and how to fit the most complicated sorts of eyes with contact lenses. He was an innovator, often designing little devices to achieve a particular end. He polished hard contact lenses in the practice, made moulds for taking impressions of the eye for scarred eyes, and would always strive to improve on what everyone else was doing at the time. He never took the status quo for granted, always seeking to develop the service he could offer.

“In 1981 I suggested to him that I would like to join him as an equal partner and so we negotiated that, and I’ll just say that it was on conclusion of that financial deal that Murray bought his Ferrari Quatrovalvoli. I recall getting it into first gear on a cold morning was impossible, so he had to slip the clutch in second. I told him to complain but he was told it was a feature of the car – a feature? If it had been an Austin Maxi it would have gone back as faulty. But we had some fun with that car.

“Over the years the contact lens practice developed into a full-time venture, although Murray never really worked what you would call ‘full-time’ and he encouraged me to work a four-day week, so Wednesdays were my day off. I maintained that habit throughout my professional career, and I am sure the sensible work/life balance was why I remained an enthusiast for my work for the next 30 years.

Murray McGrath

“Murray was never obsessed with making money, although when it was there it went on vehicles of all sorts, practical and totally crazy. Murray loved fast cars, bikes and speedboats. He did some single seater racing at Ingliston and at one point he had five motorbikes of various sizes and makes, three cars and a three-wheeler. Every lunch time we used to travel across Edinburgh on the bikes, driving in parallel like the police, feeling cool. We lunched at the Engine Shed, where they took on children with a variety of learning disabilities and served a fine variety of vegetarian food. I put up with the food because it was nicely done, but Murray always ate veggie food, and it could not have been less processed unless you dug it out the ground yourself.

“Murray never married although he came close to it more than once and he was never short of having a lady on his arm when the occasion required it. His most endearing feature was his optimism and decision to see the best in everything. One day he announced he was driving his 1200cc Kawasaki to France to have a 14-day holiday with a female friend. Four days later he appeared in the practice with the story that when he arrived after the two-day trip, things had not gone as expected and the relationship ended rather abruptly. So, he set off for the two days trip home. I commiserated with him over the waste of the journey and he then told me how wonderful the journey had been with the stunning sunset, the warm driving in the sunshine and the views in France. He never mentioned that event again and never seemed to wallow in distress over anything.

“In 2001 we realised the business needed to expand from the constraints of the small space available at Randolph Cliff, and after looking for two years we found a property at St Vincent Street. I bought the property and Murray decided that he should gradually retire over the next five years, and so a smooth transition took place. After a few years my son, Ian, was returning to Edinburgh as a fully qualified optometrist so we created a space for him, and Murray slipped out quietly into retirement.

“Murray was a keen jazz enthusiast, amassed a huge collection of his favourite recordings, and played the guitar in a band. He also published a book of witty and thoughtful poems and was waiting for a response from a publisher for his long-gestated book outlining his theories on how to have a good life. Murray also fancied himself as an artist - though his art teacher was slightly less convinced.

“He had been an animal rights campaigner long before that was a trendy thing to be, and he worked with Advocates for Animals all the years I knew him. He had been a supporter of the naturopathic philosophy, made known in Edinburgh by the Kingston Clinic in Gilmerton, for many years. I don’t think he ever registered with a GP and when he went into hospital he found that this, and his optimistic approach to life, convinced him that he could be happy in any circumstance. He certainly seemed to achieve that.

“Unfortunately, because of the restrictions I was never able to visit him in hospital, but I was reminded how he never focused on himself for long and it was a blessing for Murray that his stay there was very short and he passed away quietly in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

“He led an interesting life. (He) was never attracted to being in the limelight but shone a light on the path for others to follow, and if they achieve his level of contentment then his time here will have been well spent. I am grateful for having known him and for the happy 30 years we worked together so harmoniously.”

Murray McGrath was born on 4 June 1936 in Edinburgh and died 27 December 2020, also in Edinburgh.

He is survived by his brother David, who lives with his wife in Richmond.