OKOTOKS, Alta — The Foothills Centennial Centre was packed June 29 as people from all walks of life paid their respects to Okotoks’ favourite son, the incomparable Jim “Bearcat” Murray.
A pillar of the community who is best known for his time as the colourful trainer of the Calgary Flames, Murray passed away June 14 at the age of 89.
Family, friends and the wider community gathered for his memorial service to remember a man who was not only a larger-than-life character, but one who had a huge heart, who touched the lives of thousands because of his willingness to help whenever needed.
“He was bigger than life with an even bigger heart,” said Rev. Marilyn Evans, a family friend for more than three decades who Murray had asked to preside at his service years ago.
Calling him a character who lived life with character, Evans said Murray’s “solid rural roots” made him a devoted friend and community supporter.
Born in Vulcan in 1933, the eldest of Allan and Isabell Murray’s four children, the family moved to Okotoks in 1937 where Bearcat would become a community institution that ultimately led him to be enshrined in the Okotoks Hall of Fame.
Athletic trainer for the Flames from 1980 to 1996, which included a Stanley Cup in 1989, Murray’s distinguished career also saw him become a member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Sons Allan and Danny Murray both paid tribute to their father, with Danny telling those assembled that his dad’s generosity and outgoing personality saw him collect new friends wherever he went. Danny said he not only loved listening to the stories his dad would tell at the countless events he supported over the years, but also the faces of everyone enthralled by the amusing tales Bearcat would spin.
Allan, who worked alongside his dad since the age of 12 and called him a great mentor, said the outpouring of support since his father’s passing has been very moving.
“I knew dad was popular and well liked, but this has been unbelievable,” he said.
Flames legend Lanny McDonald, who was representing fellow alumni and personnel, called Murray a great friend who lived life with passion and excitement. He shared several humourous anecdotes about their time together, including a game in Los Angeles when Bearcat jumped from the bench to aid injured goalie Mike Vernon even though play hadn’t been stopped. The Flames scored with Murray on the ice, which made Wayne Gretzky irate and Bearcat the only trainer to be a plus-one in the stats.
McDonald also joked about Bearcat’s celebrity status throughout the National Hockey League, saying he was the only trainer to have fan clubs in visiting rinks where people would show up with bald heads and big mustaches to chant his name from the stands, a notoriety for which he was endlessly ribbed by the players.
The retired Flames sniper said Murray loved every second of it, often making light of his status: “He always told us, stay down. If I’m racing out to get you, don’t make me look bad and get up and skate away. He said, ‘I need a little airtime too.’”
McDonald, who wrote the foreword to Murray’s 2021 biography, Bearcat Murray: From Ol’ Potlicker to Calgary Flames Legend, spoke glowingly about the way his long-time friend carried himself and the compassion he had for others.
“There was no mystery to Bear, you got what you saw. He wore his heart on his sleeve,” he said. “Bear had the stature of a jockey but the heart of a lion. His vibrating energy could only be described as infectious. A man who could never sit still, he played every shift with every player.”
Long-time friend Ted Davis said Murray was a great family man and thanked his family for sharing him with the community.
“Bearcat’s loss is a loss to the entire community,” Davis said. “The man could not walk down the street, couldn’t go into a restaurant, without people coming up to him and having coffee, buying him coffee. He was an institution in Okotoks. He will be an institution for a long, long time to come. Everybody knew him and nobody missed an opportunity to talk to him.”
Dick Koentges and Roland Smith also eulogized their friend.