Twin, wife, mother, activist. Born on Jan. 17, 1932 in Galt, Ont.; died on March 3, 2014, in Mississauga, Ont., of complications from Parkinson’s disease, aged 82.
One of five children, Mary Thornton grew up during the Second World War in Galt, Ont., which is now part of the city of Cambridge. It was a time when, even at an early age, she and her twin sister, Sally, could load their bikes on the train on their own and visit their grandparents in nearby Woodstock, or pedal out into the country to visit a family friend. Mary was shy but a good student, and was inclined to do her house chores with her nose in a book.
At the University of Toronto she earned a BA and a bachelor of library science and made lifelong friends. She met her husband Laurie Jones on a blind date, and the result was a devoted, 57-year marriage. Laurie’s wedding present to her was a fine pair of binoculars which were used on many birdwatching hikes through the years.
Mary worked as a children’s librarian in Toronto for a few years until she had her own four children – Nancy, Jennifer, Peter and Keltie – within a span of eight years. Bedtimes were early, dinners timed (20 minutes or no dessert), television limited, colouring books banned, and creativity and a love of nature and the arts encouraged. Many books were read aloud during cross-country car-camping trips. She supported Laurie in his first career as an accountant and his second as a high school teacher.
Mary was a quiet, introverted woman, but she was passionate about many justice issues and wrote hundreds of letters to politicians and newspapers. She and Laurie were environmental advocates, setting up a recycling centre in their garage in Brampton before the days of weekly city pickups, and planting flowers and shrubs to attract butterflies and birds.
Despite having a progressive outlook on many issues, Mary was deeply distressed when her oldest daughter came out in 1983. Nancy put her in touch with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and, within six months, Mary became a PFLAG contact person for the Toronto area – and her life changed. Although she had always been a fighter for numerous causes, in many ways the PFLAG work was the making of her.
She and Laurie spoke at dozens of schools, appeared on television and radio shows, and took part in many Toronto Pride parades with the PFLAG contingent. The detailed records she kept (ever the librarian) show that she took 5,000 phone calls from gay and lesbian people and family members, and ran dozens of PFLAG meetings in the 17 years she was involved. She spent many hours connecting people with resources, or simply listening.
When her younger son, Keltie, came out a decade later, she recorded it in her journal as “a happy event.” At a time when such a sentiment was not ordinary, she and Laurie would say their four children were the “perfect family with one of each” – a lesbian and straight daughter, and a gay and straight son. Journalist and social activist June Callwood, a hero of Mary, wrote to her saying: “Human kindness such as yours is the only divinity I know. ParentsFlag must be full of divinity.”
Mary’s last few years were fraught with health difficulties, but she kept her lovely smile, her devotion to Laurie and her family – including her two grandchildren – and was able to accept the help she needed with grace.
Nancy Jones and Jennifer Jones are Mary’s daughters.