Mary was born and brought up in Limerick, having been adopted as a baby. Although some people showed great kindness, times were hard and her early life had many difficulties. She married when she was very young, but the marriage was not a success: bringing with it poverty, instability and violence. By the time the family left Ireland to come to Newport Mary already had three small children, and was faced with all the problems of adapting to a different country and culture. There then followed two further children, one of whom, Dinny, was born disabled. She nursed him until he was 8 and she was pregnant with her youngest son, Michael. After the war, the family had to live in a squatters’ camp. Her son Dinny died when he was 12, and her son Noel died in an accident when he was in his 30s. These two deaths were shattering blows to Mary, but she found the strength to overcome them, becoming actively involved in politics, where committing herself to challenging causes helped her recover and gave her the courage to survive. She worked tirelessly for the Troops Out movement from its inception in the late 60s until her death. She had amazing energy and a passionate commitment to a whole host of causes, including women’s issues, CND, racism, the Miner’s strike, and any form of injustice or disempowerment of people. She was always on the side of the underdog.
Mary had an enormous capacity for hard work, and worked all her life - for over 30 years at St Woolos’ hospital until she retired at 65, having served for many years as NUPE shop steward, and then at a nursing home till she was 80. (In fact, 3 weeks before her death they were still asking her to do relief duties.)
Education always presented a difficulty for Mary because of her dyslexia, of which she felt ashamed until attitudes towards it changed. She had to turn down many educational opportunities during her life, including a degree course at Ruskin College, Oxford. Because of this she was passionate about the education of her children and grandchildren. Despite her dyslexia, she continued to educate herself throughout her life through reading, the radio, attending conferences, and all her political activities. She was a keen follower of current affairs and the news, especially as these reflected the struggles in which she was involved.
Mary loved her family with a deep and abiding passion. And through her example and love her family remains a very close and loving one to this day. Mary’s sympathetic curiosity about people was boundless, and it gave her the extraordinary ability to connect with people of all kinds, regardless of age, background, class, sex, race. Mary always gave generously of herself, keeping herself accessible and available to others whatever their needs.
Mary was always a great deal of fun, with her lively sense of the ridiculous, and the gift of irreverence, which she communicated to all her family and friends. She adored controversy, and was able to challenge courageously any views, values or actions she felt were unjust.
She was also able to bounce back from difficulties and disasters, with her positive and optimistic spirit allowing her to draw strength from adversity, and leaving her appetite for life undiminished. She believed strongly that there was always something that could and should be done, that the world could be changed and made a better place. Not long ago she was mugged one night in Newport going home, but refused to let this stop her from visiting friends or attending meetings at night.
Mary was ageless in the truest sense: although 82 when she died, she was still a young woman in spirit, still totally involved with the people she loved, and the issues she believed in till the last minute, almost as if she were too busy to die, there was still so much to do.
Written by Tim Bax, a relative of Mary Crofton, who lives in London.