what you do for others lives on

What do Lucy Maud Montgomery, Grey Owl, Tommy Douglas and I have in common? Well, a person dedicated to good causes.

What do Lucy Maud Montgomery, Grey Owl, Tommy Douglas and I have in common?

Well, a person dedicated to good causes.

We all knew 112-year-old Mary MacIsaac, who died peacefully last week in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

She was certainly the oldest person in that province and reputedly the second-oldest citizen of our country.

Her active engagement in her community brought her into contact with many thousands of people over the course of a very full life.

Born Elizabeth Mary McNair in 1893 she grew up on a farm in New Brunswick.

As a freshly minted teacher with a BA from Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, she travelled west to Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, in 1916 to begin her career.

Eventually she married another Maritimer, John MacIsaac. They settled in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1922 where her husband established himself as a lawyer.

As a married woman she was not allowed to hold a full-time teaching position, so she substitute taught for a quarter of a century while raising five children.

“I loved teaching,” Mrs. MacIsaac said in a Prince Albert Daily Herald interview a couple of years ago. “But the children knew I was the teacher. They had to listen!”

Her considerable energies were not limited to teaching. Mary MacIsaac became engaged in the co-operative movement, worked to establish libraries, laboured to create public health care and farm security programs.

Stories abound about Mary. Grey Owl gave her early drafts of his books to comment on.

In a pinch, she once supplied Edna, John Diefenbacker’s first wife, with a hat.

She actively supported Tommy Douglas’ efforts to create medicare.

At a 103 she still cross-country skied with her son Ron.

I certainly remember the night back in the 1980s when I was invited to give a presentation on an anti-apartheid campaign sponsored by Development and Peace to a Catholic Women’s League meeting.

Mary was very active in that organization. I came down into the basement of the cathedral in Prince Albert equipped with my slides and fact sheets.

Halfway through my talk, an old curmudgeon of a monsignor who thought that any talk of social justice was just plain communist, got up and basically said my lecture was a load of buncombe.

Mary rose to my defence and told him to sit down and keep quiet. Confronted by her, he quickly and quietly did just as she suggested and I survived the evening.

Mary witnessed many changes in Canada and in her church.

It often happened too slowly, and exacted a painful price in human suffering in the process, but change did occur, she noted.

She chose to be part of the changes that helped shape the last century in Canada.

“The only thing that matters in life,” Mary MacIsaac said for a Canadian Federation of University Women interview, “is what you do for others.”

That certainly could have been her motto, and maybe it should be ours.

A major change will be happening in the Roman Catholic community of the Yukon this coming week.

It will be celebrating the ordination and installation of Bishop-elect Gary Gordon as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Whitehorse on March 22 at 7 p.m. in the large gym at Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

All are welcome .