We were deeply saddened to hear of the loss of longstanding WILPF member and feminist Mary Alys [pictured] on 18th May 2013 who had been involved with campaigning for peace and justice and women’s rights with WILPF for more than 30 years.
Those who have come into contact with Mary will know that she was a very humble and softly spoken woman who was also very determined, competent and not afraid to stand up and speak out on key issues or volunteer to take on the gritty tasks to get things done. Her vision of fairness and equality for all was demonstrated in her work, over the last 12 years, as the Midland’s regional manager for the Trade Union Congress (TUC), building on her lifetime’s work as an innovative adult educator.
Mary, a proud feminist, began her involvement with WILPF at the age of 28, when she was a mother of two young sons. She was invited to a picnic on the beach at Lancing, near Worthing, by a brilliant WILPF woman called Sibyl Cookson. Sibyl then took Mary along to a local WILPF Branch meeting where manyretired women were gathered and it quickly became clear that the main agenda was to discuss the Branch’s closure as they were all becoming too old. Sibyl protested that the Branch could not possibly close as they now had Mary as a new young member and by the end of the meeting Mary had agreed to go out and recruit some more younger members. Using her innovation she succeeded in the task and remained an active member of the Branch for several years before relocating to Leicester.
In her early WILPF days, Mary was actively involved in many campaigns including the WILPF STAR campaign to Stop The Arms Race, protests in the local town centre to draw attention to various issues including Hiroshima Day where the group averted arrest by singing! She was also involved in fundraising activities to send WILPF member Hazel Rennie to the embassies around Europe, and supporting women at Greenham Common by attending when possible and sending supplies – including two pairs of bolt cutters bought from funds raised at a very conservative Mayor’s fundraising event!
Later on, in the mid- late 1990’s, she took on the role of International Board member for the WILPF UK Section and was relentless in her efforts to enable the step up to a greater and more aligned international focus for the Section. Following the UN World Conference on Racism in 2001 she brought in an outside facilitator to help WILPF look at how it operated and to challenge ideas on how WILPF could be more accessible as an organisation to all women. She worked with Alice Ukoko, a Nigerian UK WILPF member, to link her with other African WILPF women in 2004 at a WILPF international Congress to further strengthen an agreed pan-African approach for WILPF’s work, and with Lucinda Amara, the then President of WILPF Sierra Leone and WILPF’s first international Vice President from the African continent. Mary had previously arranged for Alice to attend a WILPF organised International Women’s Day two day event at the UN in Geneva to speak about the proliferation of small arms in Nigeria and the Niger Delta. Mary also ran several workshops over the years to help build a more inclusive WILPF.
Mary was UK co-Vice President with Ella Page from 2011-2012 and really helped to shape the direction of the organisation including the development of an operational plan. She also recognised the huge potential in younger WILPF women and working women and really took the time to champion them, support them to link internationally and to find out their views. Amy Worrall, a former WILPF intern says:
“Mary Alys taught me a lot during the time I knew her, although I’m pretty sure she didn’t realise it and if she did, she certainly wouldn’t have taken any credit. She taught me that the loudest voice isn’t always the one that gets heard, that diplomacy is as much about kindness as it is about compromise, and that true achievement will always be recognised by those to whom it makes a difference. Mary was an inspiration to me in the way she carried out her work; you could tell immediately that her devotion to WILPF was deep-rooted and unwavering. She was willing to overcome any obstacle to continue with what she believed in. Her calming presence (but also steely determination) will be greatly missed by all who worked with her, knew her, and loved her.”
There is so much more we could say about Mary Alys and her contribution, not only to WILPF, but to the many other organisations she was involved with and the people whose lives she touched while striving to create a better and more equitable world. We are extremely honoured that she chose to be a lifetime WILPFer and ever-grateful to her for her vital contribution to the ongoing struggle for world peace.
In memory donations
Lorraine Mirham, would like to thank everyone for their warm messages and donations on behalf of Mary. If you still wish to contribute you can do so via the WILPF Charitable Trust.
All funds raised will contribute to a WILPF UK international travel fund to help support women from less well-off countries to attend international conferences and meetings when they would not otherwise be able to do, enabling their participation and voices to be heard.
Please make sure you clearly mark your donation in memory of Mary Alys so we can allocate it to the right fund. You can contact the WILPF Charitable Trust directly at firstname.lastname@example.org Please remember to include a gift aid declaration if you are a UK tax payer so we can claim an extra 25p for every £1 donated making a £10 donation worth £12.50!
The Mary Alys Trust
Mary believed that in order to change the world we must start with young people. She had a vision in which children and young people would be able to work on peace, reconciliation, justice and equity through combining the principles of feminism and to this end she set up the Mary Alys Trust as a legacy to fund this work. To find out more or to donate to the work please email email@example.com or contact Lorraine Mirham via the WILPF UK Section.
Mary’s book to promote women
Raising consciousness and enabling people to learn and develop themselves to find how they can reach their potential was key for Mary and just days before she passed away Mary completed her book entitled Calling Time on Women’s Wasted Potential . It is intended as a resource to generate discussion and awareness amongst women and men offering common sense suggestions about what needs to change to ensure women’s potential is not wasted. Copies are available at £2.50 from Lorraine Mirham e: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 0116 2857527. Any profits will be directed to the Mary Alys Trust.
Recordings from Mary
Lorraine Mirham assisted Mary to record several of her memoirs about being involved in WILPF from the early days to more recently. These are being put together as part of the WILPF 2015 History Project but should anyone wish to hear them specifically before they are available, please contact Lorraine as above.