Many people, places and events helped formulate the person of Ross McMurtry, former pastor of Grace United Church and resident of Weyburn, and this forms the basis of the book he penned, entitled, “A Kind of a Minister”.
Featuring a photo of McMurtry on the back of a horse, the title comes from one of his favourite memories that comprise the majority of the book.
Pointing out this is not a history of his life, McMurtry said in an interview he intended the book primarily for his children and grandchildren, as a way for them to get to know him.
“I really wrote it for my grandchildren, who I’ve never had the pleasure of living in the same city with; that’s who it was intended for. Even my children said there were things in there that they were surprised at and didn’t know,” said McMurtry.
Asked how he decided what to write and how to organize it, he said, “I wrote it all out of my head, and I didn’t have any notes. I’ve been encouraged by members of my family and various friends who said I should write the stories of my life. I hesitated to do that for a long time, then last year I got busy writing.”
The book is written chronologically, in the order of the many locations he lived in over the years, from when he was a child up to the present day, with photos accompanying each of the places.
While not a history per se, from each location he lived, he shares memories and stories of people or events that stand out in his memory.
“I think I would have to say they were formulative in developing who I am. When I look at them, there’s something important I learned. People told me things without my knowing that it would be important to me,” he said.
“I came through the Depression and the war, and there was a difference made in my life because of these two periods; they made an impression on me,” he added.
Among the places he grew up was Ogema, and he has a chapter of his growing up years from 1929 to 1936; after his schooling at St. Andrew’s College at the University of Saskatchewan, he was married to Frances and began his ministry and came to Weyburn in 1960, his third charge — and he has remained here, even well past his retirement from the pulpit.
The cover photo, which was originally printed in the Weyburn Review, was taken by Jean Fahlman on one of the occasions he rode roundup at the PFRA pasture at Goodwater.
Ross pointed out the hat in the photo had been stepped on by a horse, which explained the shape it was in, and it has since been affixed to the wall of the riders’ shack at the PFRA pasture with a six-inch nail.
The title itself came from a favourite anecdote from his life, listed in a section he titled, “Off the Cuff”, listing some humourous moments that he treasured from his life.
In this case, he was at a rodeo in Kennedy when a cowboy said to his cowboy son, who had his girlfriend along with him, “Aren’t you going to introduce your friend to Ross?” Clearing his throat while his face turned slightly red, the son replied, “This is Ross. He’s a kind of a minister.”
A recent development that was too late to be put into the book was that St. Andrew’s College conferred upon McMurtry his Master’s degree in Theological Studies, as when he attended school, at that time he was awarded a diploma.
When St. Andrew’s marked its 100th anniversary as an institution in 2012, the board decided that those who put in the same amount of study and work but were only given diplomas would now receive their Master’s degree. McMurtry was one of 21 who was awarded the degree, and he was presented it in a ceremony in December, one of five who were able to be present — and at age 85, McMurtry was the youngest of the group.
Vic Wiebe of Weyburn was on stage with him, as he is chairman of the board of St. Andrew’s, as was the current principal of the college, former premier and friend Lorne Calvert.
“We took three years of arts and three years of theology, and at the time we only got a diploma,” said McMurtry, pointing out this degree was earned, and is not an honourary degree.
Meantime, when McMurtry was finished with his book manuscript, he passed it on to his daughters, Elaine and Marsha.
Unbeknownst to Ross, they conferred with a friend who was in the publishing field, with all three women in different points of the world: one was in Qatar, one in Southeast Asia, and the publisher was in Paris.
“They said it was too good a story without photographs,” he said, so his daughters arranged to select photos for the book to be included to make it more of a book, and they then had it published in book form as a gift to their father.
Most of the copies he’s given to his family, and some to close friends, and he added he does have a few extra copies on hand for friends who may be interested — but the book is not generally available for sale.
He concluded his book with a short comment, which he said sums up why he wrote the book: “If you have come to some conclusions as to who the real Ross McMurtry is or was, I have achieved my purpose in sharing these stories with you.”