Educated at a Convent school in Thurless, Tipperary, Mary came to England when she was twelve and attended Carlton Vale Secondary Modern in Kilburn.
Her first job was a trainee bookkeeper – a skill she used in the clothing industry. The Union she first joined was the Clothing and Garment Workers’ Union now a part of GMB. Mary moved on to work in the print industry as a machine setter, composing adverts. Her union involvement continued when she became Mother of Chapel in the print union. Mary met and married her husband Denny in 6 weeks. She had two children, Denise and John and five grandchildren. Her first job in local government was as a school meals assistant in Salisbury Road Infants and Junior School, Brent. It was here that she joined the GMB in 1969 – her first subs were 9p a week.
Mary combined toughness on behalf of her members with a deep concern for the people who needed help.
During the local government pay dispute in 1978/79, Brent continued to provide school meals, meals on wheels and home helps to protect the most vulnerable residents.
In 1981, during the nurses’ pay dispute saw the school meals service close for the first time in solidarity.
During March 1983, the March for Jobs took place and Mary’s members donated a weeks pay to support the marchers who were cared for by the school meals staff when they arrived in London.
Secretary of GMB Hendon Branch for 26 years, Mary held the positions of shop steward, London regional council and committee member, and branch administrator. Mary served the Union’s governing body, the Central Executive Council (CEC), for over 30 years and was an active member of her local Labour Party, Brent East.
- 1983 Elected to the CEC
- 1988 Vice President of the GMB: elected by Congress
- 1993 President of the GMB Public Services Section
- 1995 Elected to NEC of Labour Party
- 1997 President of the GMB Elected by Congress and re-elected in 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017
- 2002 Elected to Public Services International Executive
- 2002 Elected as Vice Chair Labour Party (National Executive Committee)
- 2003 Elected as Chair of Labour Party (National Executive Committee)
- 2010 Received MBE
- 2010 Honorary President of British Dietetic Association (BDA)
- 2012 Received TUC Women’s Gold Badge
- 2016 Received Special GMB Eleanor Marx Award
- 2017 Received CBE for political service
Mary was passionately interested in improving the rights of part-time workers and campaigns ceaselessly on their behalf and to fight Alzheimers and dementia. Her passion was for the campaigning of free school meals for all. She enjoyed gardening and listening to the radio. Mary was in particular an enthusiastic listener to phone-in chat shows – she was known to call in on a regular basis.