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Appreciation: Kirk Murdoch

15 May 17

Tribute to the late managing partner of McGrigor Donald, and chairman for Scotland and Northern Ireland of Pinsent Masons

by Richard Masters

Kirkland Baird Murdoch was born on 7 March 1955, in rural Ayrshire to parents Jean and David. In 1960 the family moved to Ayr, where he grew up with his sister Christine and brother Jim. He was educated at Ayr Academy, where he was head boy and captain of the First XV, before moving on to Edinburgh University, graduating LLB.

Then began a legal career which saw Kirk reach the very top of the profession in Scotland. In 1976 he joined McGrigor Donald, Solicitors – impressing the recruitment board with his enthusiasm and commitment, which he delivered in spades over the next 40 years. From the off, loyalty was not only given, but inspired. Kirk often ascribed his success in no small part to his devoted and dedicated PA of 38 years, Irene Campbell, with whom he functioned so much better.

He also continued to excel at sport. He captained Ayr Rugby Football Club when they reached the higher echelons of Scottish rugby for the first time, and represented Glasgow District XV, remaining a staunch supporter of the Pink and Blacks throughout his life. He was also a keen golfer and active member at Royal Troon & Prestwick.

He married Julie Anderson in 1983 and they had daughter Katie, and twin boys Gains and Sandy. With Julie’s steady hand on the home tiller in Troon, where they lived for 27 happy years, Kirk pursued his career while remaining ever-attentive to family. Spending time at their house in Lamlash on Arran was a precious pleasure.

Throughout his career, Kirk consistently played a pivotal role in developing his firm’s client relationships and its people – all of which he was passionate about. Having become a partner in 1982, he went on to serve with distinction as managing partner and later senior partner.

When Kirk took the helm as managing partner, McGrigor Donald was a two-office central belt Scottish firm with a growing London office and turnover around the £16 million mark. He guided the “old McGrigors” to become an integral part of a global law firm spanning Europe, Asia and Africa, with turnover nudging towards £400 million. It is a remarkable track record.

None of this happened by accident. Kirk’s vision and leadership in establishing McGrigors as the leading Scottish-headquartered law firm, operating across the UK and into the Middle East, established the base that enabled the groundbreaking merger with Pinsent Masons in 2012. That merger has given lawyers across Scotland the opportunity to shine on the international stage and develop their careers in new and exciting ways – something of which he was rightly very proud.

His natural leadership and ambition for the new firm – indeed for the wider Scottish legal profession – marked him out as one of the most distinguished lawyers of his generation. As Pinsent Masons’ chair of Scotland and Northern Ireland and a board member, he exerted influence and gained respect among clients and colleagues alike. “Onwards and upwards!” was his renowned philosophy.

But it was perhaps his support and encouragement for people to be the best they could be that will prove his enduring legacy. Since his death, countless colleagues have recalled his uncanny knack of looking them in the eye, sticking his chin out, putting an arm around the shoulder and placing the other squarely between shoulder blades to give an almighty shove forward. This was a man who always tried to do the right thing even if the right thing was difficult – indeed the harder it got, the more likely he was to put himself in the middle of it, to “ride towards the sound of battle”. In a profession that does not always attract such fulsome praise, the words integrity, honour and respect are the ones that many have reached for when remembering him.

A lifelong Burns aficionado, Kirk’s renditions of “Tae a Haggis” and “Holy Willie’s Prayer” to audiences across the globe will long be remembered. Recognising the importance of offering his time and expertise in areas beyond his immediate commercial interests, he remained always committed to Ayrshire – he was described as an “unrepentant Ayrshireman” – and sat on the board of Ayr Renaissance and Irvine Bay, championing the regeneration of these areas. A true man o’ pairts, Kirk also served with distinction on the board of the Beatson Cancer Care Centre in Glasgow, the SCDI and the Scottish Business Board. Behind the scenes, well out of public gaze, he supported innumerable charities.

He lost his beloved Julie to cancer on Christmas Day, 2010. In 2015, he too was diagnosed with cancer, which he fought like a bear, with dignity and without complaint, supported by his partner Alison Di Rollo, with whom he shared the last five years of his life. He is survived by his three children, brother, partner, and wider family and friends, all of whose lives he touched and always made better.

With his passing, Scotland lost one of the most distinguished lawyers of his generation, an inspirational leader, wise counsel, loving family man and loyal friend. His legacy is a proud one and his loss profound.

Richard Masters 

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