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. Wallace Jackson
    Jul 21, 2017 at 10:01 AM

    I was so sad to hear of Mary's passing,i was proud to call her a friend for many years i will always remember the happy times we had at many conferences congresses and the national public services committee and my deep condolences go out to Mary's family at this sad time RIP Mary i'm sure you will now be re-united with your beloved Denny

  2. Daren Parmenter
    Jul 21, 2017 at 10:46 AM

    So many great memories of Mary,there are so many great people involved in our union,but Mary was number 1.
    her popularity was so huge that when the time comes to say goodbye there will not be a church big enough.
    Pehaps Westminster abbey ?
    God bless Mary.

  3. frannie mcneill
    Jul 21, 2017 at 12:18 PM

    Sorry to hear of the passing of a great president. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and the wider trade union at this time. Glasgow 66 Engineering Branch

  4. Pete Firmin, chair, Brent Trades Council
    Jul 21, 2017 at 12:26 PM

    Mary was for many years a delegate to Brent Trades Council and will be sorely missed.

  5. James stribley
    Jul 21, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    Sorry to hear of the death of gmb national president Mary turner RIP Mary where I first met mary during the first Remploy campaign over 25 years very strong indervidual and very helpful will always do you a good turn Mary will always be remedied who takes the Raines now will have a lotto live up to

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