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Lives lived: Patricia Mary Rose Lawson, 87

Mother. Nature-lover. Community activist. Eco-warrior. Born May 31, 1928, in Galway, Ireland. Died June 29, 2016, in Port Hope, Ont., of natural causes, aged 87.

At one of the many regulatory hearings in which Pat Lawson intervened as a member of the concerned public, an industry expert airily dismissed her as "only a housewife." Only!

A fearless advocate for social and environmental justice, Pat showed just what an ordinary citizen can accomplish. Whether initiating community gardening, recycling and energy conservation programs or holding industry accountable for its environmental legacy, she did not shy away from challenge or controversy.

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After growing up in Port Hope and attending Ovenden school for girls, Pat graduated from Trinity College, University of Toronto. Her sense of adventure took her to Europe where, cycling and hitchhiking around, she became enthusiastically involved with Moral Re-Armament (MRA), a postwar peace movement based in the Swiss Alps. Although she soon distanced herself from its cult-like aspects, MRA left Pat with a lasting commitment to spiritual growth and social activism – as well as an excellent recipe for bircher muesli.

Back in Canada, Pat found work teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Osaka, a tiny farming community north of Port Hope. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, Pat and her young pupils became life-long friends, an experience repeated when she sponsored and taught English to Laotian refugees in the 1980s.

With marriage to her long-suffering suitor Tom and the birth in 1958 of their first child, Pat gave up full-time teaching. But staying at home didn't suit her and she quickly involved herself in various volunteer efforts, including organizing Miles for Millions fundraising walks and co-founding the Ganaraska Hiking Trail.

Ever practical, Pat milked her goat Genevieve, bartered home-made bread for dental services and, when the pet donkey came down with a mysterious illness, simply took out the back seat of the car and drove it to the veterinary school in Guelph. Cars, however, remained no better than necessary evils and Pat was often seen bicycling to the grocery store with a toddler gamely holding on in a prototype child seat.

A persistent thorn in the side of Port Hope's major employer, Eldorado Nuclear (now Cameco), Pat put the interests of community health ahead of her own personal popularity. Not surprisingly, she failed in a bid to be elected as a municipal councilor. Yet, she was widely respected even by her adversaries.

Pat had an uncanny knack for saying the unexpected. Running for the Green Party in her 70s, she was asked by CBC host Rex Murphy in an all-candidates debate what should be done to improve our health-care system. "Well", she replied, "one of the problems is that people like me are living too long!"

When the church congregation was asked to pray for the troops in Afghanistan, Pat stood up and declared: "Our leader taught us that we should love our enemies. I think we should be praying for the Taliban!"

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Last spring, Pat and Tom renewed their vows after 60 years of marriage. To the question "Will you … ?" Pat responded "I'll try." Despite challenges and setbacks, she never stopped trying to make her world a better place.

Pippa Lawson is the second of Pat's four children.

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