Print

Barbara McMurray: Making it all look much too easy

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Balance.  It’s the word I kept thinking as I sat with Barbara McMurray eating lunch on her glorious deck. McMurray seems to have effortlessly achieved what many of us find so elusive: the ability to balance family, work, community and personal passions.  Of course, just because it appears effortless, doesn’t mean it comes without effort.  But whatever internal struggles she may engage in, to the outside observer, at least, she has them well tamed.

Coming to Laguna Beach

McMurray came to Laguna Beach in 1991. Originally from New York where she grew up on a dairy farm, McMurray came to San Diego for a visit and was so “captivated” by the scenery she was living there six weeks later.  She worked at an advertising agency for the ABC affiliate there in the promotions department.  Then, at a New Year’s Eve party in Mira Mesa, she met her husband-to-be, Ken.  “It was fated,” she says of their meeting. 

But he lived in Laguna Beach so there was a lot of back and forth on the 405 until McMurray decided to move north.  They were married a year later.  “He is my moral compass.  I became a better person when I married Ken,” says McMurray.  

His calibration must be impeccable because McMurray’s willingness to give back to her community is almost legendary.

Barbara McMurray of McMurray Marketing and Communications

CLC, training wheels and a snowball

McMurray pinpoints her daughter’s attendance at CLC (Community Learning Center) as what started her community involvement.  CLC is an alternative school run through the Laguna Beach Unified School District at Top of the World Elementary for 1st-4th graders. 

“When Anna was in CLC the tide turned for me,” explains McMurray.  “We were teaching the kids to be positive, to be involved so I figured I have to try and model these things myself.  I taught yoga.” (Parents are expected to volunteer six hours per month at CLC.). “And it was so fulfilling to make that your goal - to be the things that they were teaching the kids to do.  I love that program.  They helped me be a better parent.  So I got involved in the CLC PTA - my training wheels.  It (volunteering) just kind of snowballed from there,” says McMurray.

The Friendship Shelter calls

One of the places the “snowball” landed was the Friendship Shelter.  McMurray says she was introduced to the Friendship Shelter “the way most people are…through one of their dinners.”  But there was also a CLC connection.  “CLC did a Christmas thing for the Shelter where they would have the kids put essential items, like socks and toiletries and pocket calendars, in bags for residents of the Shelter.  They would make these hand towels into elephants and give them away.  They still do that,” she says with a laugh.  “The kids were so open to it.”  

McMurray was asked to be on the Friendship Shelter Board “a couple of years ago,” she says.  Her ultimate goal for the shelter? Nothing less than solving the problem of homelessness in Laguna Beach.  She feels very optimistic.  

After we met she sent me the following in an email: “In 2009, the city of New Orleans - a major U.S. city - had nearly 4,600 chronically homeless people living on its streets. They initiated a supportive housing program to house and provide services to these folks - and that number is now around 400. That’s a big city - they did it. The state of Utah - an entire STATE - provided housing to homeless residents and their homeless numbers went from 1,932 to 178. So many public resources can be saved using this model. We’re a little city with about 45 chronically homeless people. We can do this.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

McMurray working in her home office

Helping Chhahari change lives in Nepal

The other Board she sits on is Chhahari, which runs a home for orphans and at-risk children in Kathmandu, Nepal.  It was founded by Laguna Beach resident, Christine Casey.  “I have so much admiration for her.  I do their Facebook page.  The images, especially since the earthquake…pretty dramatic stuff,” says McMurray.  In case you’re thinking of asking McMurray to join your favorite organization’s Board (And trust me, you want her), “Two Boards is my limit,” says McMurray.  But that doesn’t mean she isn’t active in other organizations, as well.  In fact, it seems that whatever charity you attend you’ll see, McMurray there lending a hand.  

“For me, it gives life heft and meaning - gravitas,” she says.  “Plus there are so many interesting people who do these things!”

While she is definitely a do-er, McMurray is particularly adept at is bringing people together. “I like to be a connector. I want to draw people in.  That’s what being a community is all about.  A lot of the time people want to help but don’t know how.  

“The trick is not asking them to do something they don’t want to do. Then they realize they enjoy it.”

The McMurray’s rescue dog, Milo

Going full steam ahead with McMurray Marketing 

Amidst her volunteer work, McMurray also runs McMurray Marketing and Communications.  Prior to that she worked for the now defunct Opera Pacific.  “It was really fun.  Fantastic people.  But after a few years I couldn’t take the long nights.  But I did learn how to handle a certain donor crowd,” she says with a knowing smile.  “One week after starting McMurray Marketing I discovered I was pregnant with Anna.  She just turned 20.”  When asked if she considered putting her fledgling business on hold after finding out the big news she says, “I just went full steam ahead.  I scaled back when Anna was a toddler, but I’m so glad I kept going.  I don’t know if I would have had the motivation to start something after.”

Clients and causes 

Many of McMurray’s clients reflect her interests.  The Laguna Food Pantry is a client.  “We just had a happy hour taco bar at the Marine Room, which was our debut on the fundraising scene. [The event]…had a low threshold of entry.  It’s good when you give people something easy to say yes to.” She is working to elevate the Food Pantry’s profile so they can better achieve their mission. “It’s a myth that it’s just for the homeless shelter.  It’s for working people who need some help.  It would be great if we could get it to be open on weekends,” she says.

Another client is the Laguna Dance Festival.  “We have two really, really good troupes coming.” says McMurray.  There is Malpaso Dance Company from Cuba and Alonzo King LINES Ballet.  “Alonzo King is featuring ‘Biophany.’  Bernie Krause is a soundscape artist who has collected animal sounds for the last 40 years.  They worked together to come up with this score for the dancers.  This would be a great show for kids if they’re interested in nature, oceanography…”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A photo taken by McMurray’s son, Owen, next to one of her own prints

Making time for herself

McMurray, despite working, taking care of her family and volunteering, does not neglect herself.  “I do print making on Friday.  And every morning I try to meditate, even if it’s for only five to ten minutes,” she says.  She was introduced to meditation by Dr. Arlene Dorius.  “She had a group made up of really powerful, spiritual women.  I took it and ran with it…It’s very, very handy.”  

She calls herself a “Baby budding Buddhist.”  “I grew up in the Lutheran church.  This (Tibetan Buddhism) feels true to me…very true.  You have to answer to yourself.  It’s very forgiving, non-punitive in nature.”  But graduating to a full-fledged Buddhist may have to wait until she has more time to dedicate to its study.  “There is a lot to it, much to learn,” she says.

The same can be said of McMurray herself. She would be the first to say she doesn’t have all the answers.  Nevertheless, spending even a brief afternoon with her, hearing how she makes it all work, it’s easy to wonder how much more evolved she can hope to be. Maybe it’s the meditation; maybe it’s her husband.  

“I drink coffee,” she says with a laugh.  Most likely it’s all of these things – plus many, many more.  (I mean, I drink coffee…)  

“I remember my mother telling me I had ‘too many irons in the fire’ when I was younger.  I guess I just have a lot of interests,” she says with a shrug.  

Somehow she has managed to master those many irons, forging them into a very complete, well-balanced life.