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. Graham Hayden
    Jul 27, 2017 at 11:53 AM

    A Lovely Lady and Amazing Trade Unionist

  2. Justin Bowden
    Jul 27, 2017 at 01:20 PM

    Who can forget that flame of hair that lit up a room or a stage, often accompanied by a finger being pointed at someone in authority or power?

    Feared by bosses, bullies and politicians - always holding the powerful to account - you were the voice of the members Mary, their champion. A real working class hero. There can be no higher accolade than to be the members' champion and voice. And the members truly loved you because first and foremost you were one of them, always.

    Your place in our history is forever. Thank you.

  3. Paul Coles
    Jul 28, 2017 at 12:49 PM

    Mary Turner was my Branch Secretary for many years. She was a wonderful Branch Secretary who always had time for all members and activists. She would take calls almost 24/7 despite having commitments to the National Union and the Labour Party. At GMB Congress she was a wonderful and tireless President. I was amazed to see how she engaged with everyone present both on the stage and off. She would socialise until the early hours of the morning and still appear fresh and lively while Presiding over the daily meetings. An amazing woman who will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

  4. Nicola Clouden
    Jul 29, 2017 at 12:49 PM

    I have spent days writing and rewriting words that would go some way to express the huge loss I personally feel losing Mary. But, no matter how I try my words feel completely inadequate. And then I ask myself, if I feel like this, how must her family feel, and it breaks my heart.

    I first met Mary at the 2015 Congress held in Dublin. I was in awe of Mary, her strength, kindness, humour and overall presence over the proceedings made my first Congress a delight. A nervous 'first time delegate, first time speaker' grew in confidence and with Mary's unwavering support and presence at many other conferences since then, despite her ill health, she has helped me to continue to grow.

    I feel very privileged to have met Mary and more so to have been able to call her my friend.

    Mary, you shone like a brilliant star, not only in my life but in many others. If I could have an ounce of your stamina, strength and determination, your laughter, kindness and humility I would feel truly blessed. You will stay not only in my memory but forever in my heart.

  5. Marie Campbell
    Jul 30, 2017 at 07:21 PM

    I, amongst others, had the pleasure of spending a few long nights with Mary talking and drinking at the K17 Christmas parties. To me Mary had the voice and reason that you listened to and I will always remember her strength and wisdom.
    My heartfelt condolences and sympathy to Mary's Family and friends and my thoughts and prayers will be with you all when Mary is laid to rest on August 9th.
    It was an honour to have known this wonderful woman. What she gave nobody can replace

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