Mary-Wade Anderson was a feisty woman who spoke from the heart and shot from the hip.
And, given that the longtime White Rock city councillor was also an admirer of men in uniform, she would have been pleased at the turnout of firefighters and RCMP officers who came to pay her their final respects Wednesday, during a celebration of life at the White Rock Community Centre.
“Mary is smiling at the firefighters today,” quipped Judy Forster, one of three former White Rock mayors who spoke at the tribute.
Anderson, 84, died June 26, nearly four months after undergoing a heart-valve replacement. She had served the city on council for 12½ years, but her love for the city dates back much further.
Forster’s comment was among many stories about Anderson that evoked a chuckle that afternoon from the more than 300 residents, business people and fellow politicos who gathered.
Keeping the event lighthearted is what Anderson would have wanted, said Mayor Wayne Baldwin.
“We know that she would want this to be an uplifting experience, lots of shared memories… and no sadness whatsoever,” he said.
Keeping with the theme, Baldwin recalled the time Anderson suggested she would have liked to see him, too, in a uniform.
“I told her, ‘nothing fits but the hat,'” he said.
Baldwin described Anderson as a woman who had “a smile and a laugh that could warm up a room and a wit that could cut like a razor,” – qualities he’s sure contributed to her being quoted in the newspapers seemingly more often than many other council members.
Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg – White Rock’s mayor from 1984-1993 – recalled the slogan Anderson was considering using when she first decided to run for council: “There’s something about Mary.”
The popular movie of the same name had recently been released, he noted, and Anderson quickly proved herself worthy of the phrase.
When Hogg was mayor, Anderson would often visit him at city hall, “to tell me what it was I needed to do.” Shortly after her heart operation in March, Anderson called Hogg to come for a visit, praising the care she’d received in hospital, raving about the family she’d recently reunited with and demanding he bring her a Tim Hortons muffin – “and she told me what I needed to do.”
“She was right – there truly is something about Mary.”
Other speakers included Jackie Smith, executive director of Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation, former White Rock mayor Hardy Staub and Marilyn Rice, who first met Anderson in 2001 but became extremely close over the 15 months before she died.
Their bond solidified after Anderson called early one morning for help, Rice said. The senior had fallen the night before in city hall chambers and broken her hip. While she was seen in Peace Arch Hospital that night, the fracture wasn’t discovered, and Anderson had been helped home to bed, then left to fend for herself. In the morning, unable to get up, she called Rice.
“That phone call changed my life for the next 15 months,” Rice said, describing how the pair discovered they were kindred spirits.
Anderson was intensely private about her personal life, Rice noted, but opened up after a phone call during last fall’s election campaign. It was from a relative in England, who had news that the children she had lost touch with 50 years before had tracked her down and were anxious to connect.
“Those years of carrying that private, heavy burden fell off,” Rice said, and Anderson added a new passion – family – to the list that for so long gave priority to city politics and health care.
Sadly, while Anderson spent five days with her son and daughter in April when they travelled to Blaine to meet her, her final days were once again burdened by the inability to be with her children. Her daughter, Jenny Awakuni, was denied a passport by U.S. officials, preventing her from crossing the border to be with her mother.
“It was very unfortunate that government bureaucracy got in the way of Jenny getting up her to see her mother,” Rice said.
Rice said she takes comfort in knowing Anderson is finally getting the break she so needed from the physical pain of the weeks before.
“May her rest be eternal,” she said.
Wednesday’s service concluded with a blessing and songs by members of Semiahmoo First Nation. Band councillor Joanne Charles said Anderson “has a special place in our heart” for her work to build bridges between the city and SFN, and her efforts to work in partnership for the betterment of the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
One song performed – the Woman’s Warrior Song – gives thanks to all of the women who have fought for the community, Charles said.
“It’s only fitting that that song be sung today,” she said.