A gentle soul with a sincere concern for others is how practically everyone will remember Mary Clarke.
The Scarborough resident, who mixed pro-life work with an array of charitable and community causes, died at Providence Center March 9 after a two-year struggle with cancer. She was 74.
Pro-life supporters would best know Mary as financial administrator, board member and general volunteer with the de Veber Institute (formerly the Human Life Research Institute), a research organization dedicated to life and bioethical issues.
She was also a founding supporter and later president of Coalition for Life, which evolved into Campaign Life Coalition. In the months following Canada’s legalization of abortion, Mary helped organize some of the very first pro-life demonstrations as Queen’s Park.
Mary’s concern for her fellow man was not limited to the unborn. She was an active supporter of the St. Vincent de Paul society which provides comfort and basic assistance to the poor.
Broke with NDP
Her family’s interest in the rights of the working person led to a long association with the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and later the New Democratic Party. Mary in fact was once a member of an NDP riding association, but chose to leave the party over its stand on abortion and other life issues.
Mary’s social conscience promoted her support for a number of diverse organizations. She was active with the Christian labor movement and the Young Christian Workers, and she supported the Traveler’s Aid program which helped stranded visitors.
“She was a tremendous organizer and a perfectionist in terms of presenting the pro-life message in the best possible way,” remembers friends and associate Martha Crean, an educator at Holy Name school in Toronto. “She liked to help people in simple, concrete ways. And she wasn’t bothered with rigid ideologies. ‘I do things for the little babies,’ was the way she would describe her motivation for pro-life work.”
Eunice Lau, 22, former executive director of the de Veber Institute, recalled Mary’s quiet diplomacy and tact. “She had amazing diplomatic manner that allowed her to express her positions without becoming pushy or offensive,” Eunice said. “She helped me to strive for that kind of balance in my life.”
Janet Ajzenstat, a professor of political science at McMaster University in Hamilton, worked with Mary at the de Veber Institute. She had no hesitation describing Mary as “a saintly person” with a gentle, down-to-earth nature.
“Working with Mary was a privilege, not just for me but for those around her,” Prof. Ajzenstat said. “She had a large and generous heart and she always had the time for people who came to her in need.”
Prof. Ajzenstat also praised Mary for her wide range of interests, including a special admiration of Judaism. “Mary was especially sensitive to the Holocaust,” the professor said. “She often wondered how she would have responded had she been living in Europe during the Second World War.”
Father Frank Corless, spiritual director at Serra House in Toronto, first got to know Mary through their involvement in the Young Christian Workers. Father Corless, who preached the homily at Mary’s funeral Mass, described her life as one of deep faith spelled out by action. “She was deeply concerned with the suffering and hardship and that naturally drew her to the entire spectrum of right to life issues,” Father Corless said.
Mary is survived by her husband, John Clarke of Scarborough. The couple was married in 1966.
The funeral Mass for Mary was celebrated March 13 at St. Dunstan’s Church in Scarborough. Burial was at Holy Cross Cemetery.