REMEMBERING Mary Burlie...

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by Sari Tudiver

Mary Burlie, a highly respected front-line social worker and anti-poverty activist, died on July 13, 1996, of lung cancer. Mary worked at Boyle Street Co-op in Edmonton's inner city, where she helped those in difficult situations get welfare, food and housing, school placements, job training or addictions treatment. But most of all, Mary gave hope, strength and self-esteem to people who needed it, by listening with respect, sharing her hard-learned practical wisdom and sense of humour, and by never giving up.

Born in Arkansas to a family of 13, Mary knew the hardships of being black and poor -- as well as the love of a strong family. When her first husband was killed, she was left with four young children and later trained as a nurse's aide. She married a Canadian and moved to Edmonton in 1969. Over the years, in addition to working at Boyle Street Co-op, raising her six children and several foster children, she was president of the Alberta Black Women's Association, and of Change for Children, an international development agency. She had a broad range of interests and commitments -- local and global.

Once you met Mary, you never forgot her: the warm, genuine smile, the motherly hug readily offered, as well as her clear and poetic ability to speak the deeper truths, analyze the causes and consequences of poverty, and mobilize others to action.

In 1993, Mary attended the Canadian Women's Health Network founding meeting in Winnipeg because, as she said, "I believe in networking" and was appointed to the Coordinating Committee. Her words inspired us:

"We might have a different colour of our bodies, we might have different shape of the eyes. But we are all the same. We grow in skills and understanding. We grow in appreciation of each other and of this global community. . . .We do have a big task ahead of us, but I have no doubts when I look into the eyes and hear the hearts and touch every one of you that we can achieve the goals no matter how difficult it may be."

Mary was a woman who never stopped learning, who embraced life and people with passion and tolerance, and gave the best she had to others. She leaves a rich legacy for us all.

Sari Tudiver is the Resource Coordinator at the Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg and a member of the CWHN Coordinating Committee.