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. Emma Golding
    Jul 21, 2017 at 01:50 PM

    Mary was an amazing lady who always spoke so very fondly about her family. She was so down to earth and passionate about everything she did. On a personal note, Mary was a great help to me in my role at GMB and was an inspiration and role model to so many. It will be a very different place without her. Rest in peace lovely lady and I'll have a vodka (Mary measure) for you xx

  2. Mick Ainsley
    Jul 21, 2017 at 01:53 PM

    For as long as I have been involved with GMB Mary was always there, at my 1st congress she could see that I was nervous so she called me over to her table to give advice and a friendly word as I saw her do for so many new delegates over the years. she embodied everything that the trade union movement is and more.
    It doesnt seem enough to just say Mary will be missed because of course everyone who knew her will miss her and her family will have a void that can never be filled,but we have fond memories that will stay with us.
    My thoughts are with Marys family.

  3. Barbara Casher
    Jul 21, 2017 at 02:08 PM

    I am truly saddened to hear that Mary has passed away. A role model in so many ways, compassionate, nonjudgmental, kind, humorous and extremely brave. Mary was so proud of her family and I send my sincere condolences to them all at this sad time in their lives.

  4. Mark Serwotka
    Jul 21, 2017 at 02:48 PM

    Mary was a true giant of the labour movement, and as warm and generous with her time as she was fierce and determined in the face of injustice. The passion she showed in her fight for free school meals embodied everything that we stand for and against.

    She inspired us all but she was a particular inspiration to women and young members, and we must redouble our efforts to ensure Mary’s commitment to equality applies as much to our movement as we demand it does in our workplaces and in wider society.

    The world would be a much better place if there were more people like Mary Turner. She was much loved, much admired, and she will be greatly missed.

    In solidarity.

    Mark Serwotka
    General secretary

    Janice Godrich
    National president

    Public and Commercial Services union

  5. Robert Barron
    Jul 22, 2017 at 10:43 AM

    While I was attending National Congress in Nottingham Mary met my Niece and without any Hesitation she looked straight into Ems Eyes and said," this is the future of the movment right here in front of us!" She then kissed Em on the forehead. Em was blown away.
    The other fun memory i have of Mary is the BA flight back fron Dublin declairing itself Union One and the whole Crew forming a gaurd of honour on thr Tarmac to Great our Mary when we landed at Heathrow.
    The movment is poorer without this inspirational woman who could instil such pride and respect not just for herself but for the Movment.
    A Giant has walked our land and now has gone.
    May the Pipers of Heaven hail her arrival to her seat at the table of the Rightious.

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