Remembering Sunderland’s political stalwart and lifelong fan Mary Smith

Mary Smith.
Mary Smith.
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Tributes have been paid to a woman described as an “outstanding public servant” of Sunderland.

Mary Smith, the city’s first honorary woman Alderman and former Mayor, has passed away at her home in Barnes at the age of 80 after losing her battle with cancer.

Mary was a lifelong SAFC fan.

Mary was a lifelong SAFC fan.

Today, a Wearside MP and senior councillor were among those hailing Mary’s contribution to the city.

She had a councillor for Pallion and then for Hendon, becoming Deputy Mayor in 2007-8 and then Mayor in 2008-9 when her husband Raymond, who died in 2013, became the first Mayor’s Consort for the city.

She retired from the council to care for Raymond and became the first honorary woman alderman for Sunderland in 2014.

Despite her illness, she carried on with her public duties, attending council meetings and fund-raising functions.

What are your memories of Mary?

What are your memories of Mary?

As a councillor, the care of children was a particular passion and she earned the affection and respect of colleagues and council officers for the many hours of unseen work she undertook out of the public eye, particularly as a member of the adoption panel and in social services.

In retirement she continued her work with the North East Disabilities Resource Centre, formerly Scope, and the Joseph Rowntree Trust, an independent charity working to benefit deprived children.

She was involved in many campaigns, one of the most memorable being for the restoration of the memorial to the children who died in the Victoria Hall disaster.

Many Echo readers joined in that campaign and the memorial now stands in Mowbray Park.

Mary in her younger days.

Mary in her younger days.

She was a devoted supporter and season ticket holder of Sunderland AFC, attending her last home match just two weeks ago, despite being very ill, and last weekend watched her team beat Norwich on television.

Born in Hendon, Mary was evacuated to Bedale with her brother Stewart during the war, and her family moved to Springwell when the estate was first built.

She trained as a pharmacy dispenser, though her ambition was to be a nurse, and she was proud that her two daughters, son-in-law and three of her six grandsons worked in the NHS, about which she was passionate.

Mary met husband Raymond at the age of 14 in Penshaw woods and they married in 1959.

Mary Smith.

Mary Smith.

They had a brief spell in Canada, when Raymond, a seagoing engineer, took a shore job, but they returned to Sunderland because Mary’s father was very ill, with Raymond working at Rolls Royce.

Both were longstanding members of the Labour Party and Mary was proud to receive a card from the party leader Jeremy Corbyn a few weeks ago after one of her grandsons, also a party member, contacted him.

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, said: “Mary was in politics for the right reasons.

“She was always caring and wanting to help people.

“She was an excellent councillor and Mayor and an outstanding public servant.

“I will miss her as a friend and Labour colleague of many years, and I know she will be missed by many others.

“She made a lasting impact on all who knew her and indeed on our city.”

One of her former Hendon ward colleagues, Coun Michael Mordey, cabinet member for City Services, said: “I first met Mary as a 17-year-old lad new to the Labour Party and she really encouraged me, as she did all young people.

“She was always there to give advice – I remember her telling me to always listen carefully to all sides of the arguments before making my mind up.

“She was a lovely, caring woman, always concerned about the most vulnerable, and I loved her like a grandmother.”

Mary’s funeral will take place at the Church of St Mary and St Peter, in Springwell, on Thursday at 1.15pm.

She leaves two daughters and six grandsons.