Our Mary - Celebrating the Life of Mary Turner

GMB National President

Educated at a Convent school in Thurless, Tipperary, Mary came to England when she was twelve and attended Carlton Vale Secondary Modern in Kilburn.

Her first job was a trainee bookkeeper – a skill she used in the clothing industry. The Union she first joined was the Clothing and Garment Workers’ Union now a part of GMB. Mary moved on to work in the print industry as a machine setter, composing adverts. Her union involvement continued when she became Mother of Chapel in the print union. Mary met and married her husband Denny in 6 weeks.  She had two children, Denise and John and five grandchildren. Her first job in local government was as a school meals assistant in Salisbury Road Infants and Junior School, Brent. It was here that she joined the GMB in 1969 – her first subs were 9p a week.

Mary combined toughness on behalf of her members with a deep concern for the people who needed help.

During the local government pay dispute in 1978/79, Brent continued to provide school meals, meals on wheels and home helps to protect the most vulnerable residents.

In 1981, during the nurses’ pay dispute saw the school meals service close for the first time in solidarity.

During March 1983, the March for Jobs took place and Mary’s members donated a weeks pay to support the marchers who were cared for by the school meals staff when they arrived in London.

Secretary of GMB Hendon Branch for 26 years, Mary held the positions of shop steward, London regional council and committee member, and branch administrator. Mary served the Union’s governing body, the Central Executive Council (CEC), for over 30 years and was an active member of her local Labour Party, Brent East.

  • 1983 Elected to the CEC
  • 1988 Vice President of the GMB: elected by Congress
  • 1993 President of the GMB Public Services Section
  • 1995 Elected to NEC of Labour Party
  • 1997 President of the GMB Elected by Congress and re-elected in 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017
  • 2002 Elected to Public Services International Executive
  • 2002 Elected as Vice Chair Labour Party (National Executive Committee)
  • 2003 Elected as Chair of Labour Party (National Executive Committee)
  • 2010 Received MBE
  • 2010 Honorary President of British Dietetic Association (BDA)
  • 2012 Received TUC Women’s Gold Badge
  • 2016 Received Special GMB Eleanor Marx Award
  • 2017 Received CBE for political service

Mary was passionately interested in improving the rights of part-time workers and campaigns ceaselessly on their behalf and to fight Alzheimers and dementia. Her passion was for the campaigning of free school meals for all. She enjoyed gardening and listening to the radio. Mary was in particular an enthusiastic listener to phone-in chat shows – she was known to call in on a regular basis.

Warren Kenny, GMB London Regional Secretary

“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.”

“On a personal note, I knew Mary for more than 30 years, she gave GMB her tireless commitment to tackle injustice and unparalleled loyalty to our membership.”

“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.”

Statement from Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary

We are waking up this morning to the awful news that GMB President Mary Turner has passed away. The thoughts of everyone in GMB Scotland at this sad time are with her family and loved ones.

Mary was a towering presence in the life of GMB and it's hard to imagine our union without her. She was a great leader, a fearsome fighter, a wonderful friend and an irresistible force for good in our country. So many people's lives have been changed for the better because of Mary.

She also devoted her life to the wider Labour movement and achieved incredible things, rubbing shoulders with the great and the good, senior politicians, prime ministers and presidents, but in all she did Mary never forgot her roots as a GMB activist working in school dinners for a London council. Our members were always Mary's guiding light. She loved them. And, we loved her too.

On a personal note I worked with Mary for a number of years and she gave me huge encouragement. I will always remember and cherish her insightful words of wisdom and many acts of kindness. She was an inspiration to me. I will miss her terribly.

Mary was a proud, warm, intelligent and determined working class woman. Her passing is the end of an era but her legacy, values and spirit live on.

Rest in peace Mary.

Comments (60)

  1. Allan Thompson
    Jul 20, 2017 at 01:45 PM

    Mary was quite exceptional. As a trade unionist she managed to transcend barriers of age, race, gender, class, and this was highlighted by her long tenure. Mary was not only President of GMB but a Mother to all members...always welcoming and giving of so much time to the GMB rank and file.

  2. Trevlyn McLeod
    Jul 20, 2017 at 02:06 PM

    I have never seen the most kindest and encouraging eyes than those of Mary Turner
    I have never aspired or admired anyone more than "our Mary " She made me want to be more , on the few occasions that I met her I honestly felt protective of her her frame was so little but in all honesty she was 1 of the strongest woman I have ever come across- kind ,companionate ,strong,fiercely protective of others that were not or could not speak for themselves and all of us in the GMB -we all felt the warmth and love that generated from her those kinds of people are far and few between .
    I feel hounoured to have met you Mary Turner - Heaven has gained another angel
    Rest in peace you will forever missed .

  3. Sue Hackett
    Jul 20, 2017 at 02:12 PM

    So many lovely words have been written overnight about our wonderful GMB President Mary Turner and I know it will bring comfort to her family who graciously shared her with us.

    We all share so many memories of all the fantastic stories Mary told us, who will forget the “bus loads expected and the Police getting on the bus”, the train journey with Edna, the friendly banter with her closest and dearest friend Barbara, the cornflakes in the morning for the school kids, her stories of Denny receiving crank calls from PK and so many everyone else has shared.

    One of my funny stories was at my 40th Birthday Party, we had a free bar and my brother came up to me and said the barman pulled him aside and said there were people who had brought their own alcohol and that was not on, he told the barman not to be ridiculous, it was a free bar, why would anyone be drinking their own drink? With a grin on my face, I said I know exactly who it was, so I went to Mary and Barbara and said why are you drinking your own drink, when I have a free bar and want to buy you a drink and Mary said, don’t worry about it, we thought it would save you a few bob!

    For me, I remember her for her compassion and caring for all of us, her advice and guidance, how much she loved her family, her humour and charm.

    Over the past few years she has had various bouts of illness, that never ever held her back and watching her at Congress, you could see how she would start off a little frail and with each day, she gained strength, Congress brought out the best in Mary, she was at her very best when leading by example, we are all the more enriched by the strength she showed, I feel incredibly sad to say farewell to this amazing, inspirational woman and someone I considered a friend, but most of all I feel very sad for my friend Lisa who loved her Nanny so, nobody could have had a better granddaughter, she was so proud of you. Sending you and your family all my love and condolences, I know you are very proud of her just for being your Nan and Mother. Rest In Peace dear Mary we will all miss you very much and never forget you xxxxx

  4. Cllr Paul Bell
    Jul 20, 2017 at 02:21 PM

    A sad loss. She was and will be remembered as an amazing trade unionist.

  5. Vaughan Thomas
    Jul 20, 2017 at 02:49 PM

    Sorry to hear of Mary's passing; she was a stalwart of trade unionism and helped keep the Labour Party socialist. A kind, caring woman who had no airs and graces when what needed to be said, was said, and she would not defer to those who did have airs & graces. Everyone was treated equally by Mary no-matter who they were. She was the very embodiment of what Trade Unionism is about. Sincere condolences to Mary's immediate family. She will be missed by many across the Labour movement.

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