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Opinion: Thanks for everything, Shirley Martin

By Mike Williscraft

There are some columns which just write themselves.

Then there are those you really don’t want to write.

This is one of the latter.

As you will have seen, good reader, Shirley Martin died last week after a long, tough cancer battle.

She meant a great deal to many, including myself and Catherine.

There are so many angles to come at this from it is really difficult to follow a train of thought. You have everything from smalltown farmer woman does good, really good, to highly intelligent communicator who worked in a federal government capacity at the United Nations but had no problem sitting at a volunteer booth at Festival at The Forty.

And there is a whole in between there, believe me.

Shirley was one of the first people I met when I came to town in 1995. Looking back, I am 100 per cent sure it was not by accident. I am equally confident she wanted to check out the new editor in town to see what I was about.

Over 25 years I cannot tell you how many times I spoke with her on all things community – from town council (more of late) to events to fundraising to the state of the local business community.

I must say, very few things surprise me any more. I am not a been there, done that guy, but I have seen enough in 35 years in this business to realize you can’t sit around expecting the unexpected.

I can say, straight up, I did not expect to hear Brian Mulroney’s voice on my cell phone Monday morning. It was only 20 minutes after I had emailed his assistant asking if Mr. Mulroney may be able to provide a comment on Shirley’s passing. In my email, I asked for a reply or quick call asking for confirmation of receipt since I knew deadline timing would be tight.

So when I saw my phone light up with a 514 phone number, I just answered in my usual way expecting a somewhat pat reply along the lines of…I’m working on getting you something, will email by day’s end…or something along that line.

No, it was pretty much an immediate phone call. I really wish I had recorded it, but I was wholly unprepared. The reason I would have wanted to record would be so the community could hear in the man’s voice the esteem in which he held Shirley Martin.

The immediate call back was a tip off, but he spoke eloquently and from the heart. There was a genuine love and appreciation there which typed words cannot express. I sincerely hope the manner in which his comments are presented come close and I really appreciated that call.

I have a lot of respect for people who do not forget who their true friends are. Mr. Mulroney, certainly, did not forget.
Thanks, sir!

Locally, Shirley’s passing was like a ripple across a pond. Those who knew her realized her health was not good so I would not say there was shock when hearing the news – particularly with the passing her husband of 69 years coming just three weeks prior.

Those ripples will travel off into the distance for years through the many people Shirley helped. If you are wondering how many that may be, basically, it is everyone who asked her for help or anyone she perceived could benefit from her aid.

As was stated over and over when I sought some sentiments regarding Shirley and her efforts, nobody was turned away – myself included.

Shirley was a regular at my offices over the years. The various groups and committees she served on were wise to the fact I would not and could not say no to her. How do you say no to someone who, in turn, does not deny anyone? You cannot, and I did not.

So a ton of WLMH, McNally House, Rotary and Grimsby Museum items rolled to me via Shirley, parked beside my desk. Almost always a personal visit. In more recent years, before COVID even, phone calls were a bit more common. The last time I spoke with her was about early August.

The upside of fewer “business” visits meant when Shirley was uptown she would always drop by for a social call, and that was when we had some great discussions. As well, each time she was in, she spent a lot of time talking to Catherine, especially when she was adjusting from moving from Montreal. They became very good friends and chatted often, too.

I cannot wrap things up any better than Mr. Mulroney when he said, “Shirley was one of a kind and we all appreciated and loved her.”

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