A Life Well Lived

Karen Redman
Aug 11, 2017

Equity for All.

On July 7, 2017, my friend Mary Johnston died naturally and unexpectedly at the age of 87 at her cottage surrounded by members of her beloved family. It is a lovely peaceful conclusion of a life well lived.

It may be a function of my involvement in the community, but more often than not, I am reflecting on the lives lived by people of influence in our community. Mary Johnston was just such a person.  I knew Mary through my career as a Public School Trustee as well as our attendance at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

Mary was an investor in relationships. She invested in her faith community, her family, students of all ages and the educational sector in Waterloo Region and beyond.  She lived life fully. Since 1987, she delighted in telling the current students attending Mary Johnston School that not only was the school named for her as the first female principal in the public school system but that she was still very much alive. Typical of so many women who have shattered the glass ceiling, Mary was passed over for male colleagues for years who were less qualified for the position of principal.  It was support from the first female trustee, Prof. Margaret Evans, that prompted the Kitchener school board to take a chance on this determined woman. Not only did Mary express interest in the job but she was overqualified and overlooked when decisions for appointing principals were made. She had a Master's degree at a time when many teachers were still taking summer courses to complete education requirements for a Bachelor’s degree.

Mary spent countless hours at St. Andrew’s Church promoting Fair Trade coffee long before it was known in the community.  That sense of fairness defined much of Mary’s life.  She believed that creating the trail required marking the path for others to follow. She supported her friends to seek positions of authority. In her eulogy of Mary, Cambridge Councillor Donna Reid recalled the encouragement Mary provided in her first run for public office.  Mary knew that the true test of any pioneer was to ensure the journey was a bit easier for those who followed in her footsteps.