St Paul’s Memorial Service for Mary Turner
A Tipperary-born UK trade unionist, former GMB President Mary Turner CBE, was this week honoured with a memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The GMB trade union’s long-serving President, from Kilburn in Brent, died last year, aged 79. It was the first time such an honour, a memorial service at St Paul’s, previously bestowed on Sir Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, was bestowed on a trade union leader.
Mary was one of the most dynamic women members of the trade union movement, rising from school meals assistant to become president of the GMB trade union as well as chair of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). She received both an MBE and a CBE for her campaigning work.
She was a passionate advocate of free school meals, a dedicated opponent of the National Front and a tireless campaigner for jobs and rights at work. Mary was a formidable campaigner for working people for many decades. Mary was born in Tipperary but lived in London from childhood.
Kilburn in Brent was her home. Born in 1938, Mary Turner moved from her home in Tipperary to live with relatives in the North of England in 1947, before settling in Kilburn, London. In 1956 she met Denny and married him six weeks later. He died in 2015 and they are survived by their son John and daughter Denise, and their five grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
Mary was elected a member of the GMB’s central executive council in 1983 and was at that time the only woman out of 40 to serve on it.
In 1997, she was elected as national president of the union, a position to which she was repeatedly re-elected. A lifelong member of the Labour Party, she was elected onto the NEC in 1995, serving as its chair in 2003-04. A delegate to the Trades Union Congress, she spoke at every congress and in 2012 received the TUC Women’s Gold Badge. She also received an MBE and a CBE.
She had been ill for some years but continued in her post as president, chairing the GMB’s 100th annual conference in Plymouth in June last year.
GMB General Secretary Tim Roache said: “Our Mary was a true giant of the trade union movement and the beating heart of GMB for decades.
“This memorial reflects the great legacy she leaves as a tireless defender of working people. It is hugely deserved.
“She left this world having made a real difference to so many people’s lives, and that’s something we are all proud of.
“Be it fighting for dinner supervisors in Brent, for hungry kids to have free school lunches, for pensions, for young people – or taking on the National Front, Mary led our movement.
“They really did break the mould when they made Mary Turner. She may be gone, but she has left behind a union that will ensure the values and principles she fought tirelessly for will always endure.”
GMB London Region Secretary Warren Kenny, said: “A servant to the people and hero of GMB, Mary gained the respect and recognition of everyone in GMB, the wider trade union and labour movement as well as those from all political spheres.
“Mary was a tenacious and unflappable trade unionist, combining toughness and care and soared through against all the odds. She was known throughout the labour movement for her indomitable stamina, kindness and compassion.
“Mary was everything that an outstanding trade unionist and socialist should be. “Mary inspired so many to realise their potential in life as she dedicated her life to helping others.
“A giant, warm giving person whose passing will be mourned by all. “Mary Turner, remembered forever.”