Pilot extraordinaire celebrates 80th

By Marilyn Bruinsma


Murray Ward turns 80! Photo courtesy Daryl Gilroy

At the October COPA Flight 45 meeting, family and friends gathered to celebrate Murray Ward’s 80th birthday. Not only did the group celebrate his milestone birthday but also they honoured his many years of flying.

The evening began with a social hour and a roast beef dinner catered by the Flight members and friends. Over heaping plates of delicious foods, many conversations told stories of years past at Sky Harbour Airport when Business Air Services owned and operated a fleet of corporate jets that flew all over Canada and the United States.

After dinner, the evening of memories began. Bruce (Alvin) Sully owner of BAS (his initials) told the group how and when he first met Murray.

A trip was planned to the USA to visit dealers but it was interrupted by the sudden death of Bruce’s father. It was June 23, 1968. Murray offered to fly to Toronto in the Aztec CF-YKN to pick up Mrs. Sully with a nurse to bring her home to Goderich. Murray being Murray, he even flew the nurse back to Toronto.

News Year Day, a Beechcraft salesman phoned Murray to say that Champion Road Graders in Goderich had purchased a King Air. You see, Murray, had promised Bruce that if he ever bought an airplane he would come to Goderich to be Champion’s pilot. Three weeks later, Murray moved here.

Champion’s executives used the King Air to bring dealers and potential customers to the Goderich plant to see how the graders were built. So successful was this marketing concept that BAS built a hangar on the former foundation of Sky Harbour Air Services that burned in 1964.

Another Lear Jet (C-GRDR- grader without vowels) was bought for longer trips. The company’s services were becoming well known throughout the industry and requests were coming in from other corporations to charter these aircraft.

Purchased was another Lear Jet CG-RCO and a King Air – C-GFAS (fast and sexy) named by Murray’s wife, Shirley, and another King Air. A commercial operating license was obtained to accommodate the requests from these corporations. Murray became Chief Pilot with 16 other pilots flying these planes all over North America and the Caribbean.

Because of its’ success, BAS opened an office in Toronto. Murray, Shirley, and family moved there. Three years later the family moved back to Goderich, where Murray continued to fly the King Air until 1988 when BAS ceased to operate.

Bruce said, “Murray wore the airplane like a glove, set high standards and great leadership in a tough business. It was the beginning of a wonderful business experience and new friendship that I will treasure for life. I was very lucky to have a wonderful pilot and friend. What more could one ask for?”

John Edwards from Sky Harbour Aircraft spoke of his years past as a young 20 something boy living every possible moment at the airport. His son Rick idolized Murray with his many flights and passengers, some of which included neurosurgeon, Dr. Drake, of London and actor/director William Shatner.

Jerry Sabo recalled getting phone calls from airline pilots passing overhead wanting to know if Murray was there. Jerry was truly amazed at how many people knew Murray.

Keith Brautigam, Captain of COPA Flight 45, presented Murray with a framed picture of the Goderich Airport taken by Jane Farrell.

Gus Chisholm brought the house down with tears of laughter when he presented Murray with his gift of a senior’s crutch along with reading an appropriate poem. Only Gus could do that!

Murray is known as a fabulous and natural pilot with endless humour and bad jokes. Tonight some of us got to tell our stories about Murray and how he has advanced our aviation careers, friendships, and fun in the air among those white clouds and blue skies.