Longtime Stoney Creek resident Mary Wiebe died last month after a bout with lung cancer. She was 82. When I think of Mary Weibe I think of a generation of women, like my mother, who provided community leadership in their own way, shunning the spotlight, without complaining about gender roles, just getting the job done.
Right to the end Mary was thinking of others. As she was seriously ill she allowed a Spectator reporter to chronicle a treatment regimen she was getting for her lung cancer that helped her participate in normal activities , including flying to Winnipeg to attend a family wedding. In so doing she provided positive publicity for the hospital that was treating her.
Mary will be best remembered for her leadership on the issue of the Red Hill Expressway. She was easily the most ardent supporter of a group I helped form—the Get Hamilton Moving Task Force which was started to counter a well organized campaign by Expressway opponents, who had successfully hijacked most of the media coverage of the issue. Mary was a doer. If you needed a good turnout for a rally it was Mary who would use her network to get warm bodies in the seats. Back when Letters to the Editor counted for more than they do now, Mary would contribute or get others to. On the Red Hill issue she wrote in 2003, “We all have memories of how things used to be. But we cannot live in the past nor can we stand still. To do so is to be left behind and that is exactly what will happen to Hamilton if we do not plan for the future. Residential taxes have risen considerably because of the erosion of the business tax base. Businesses are moving to areas where there are suitable transportation corridors for the movement of goods.” Typical reasoned and reasonable Mary. When the expressway was finally opened there was an iconic picture of former Mayor Jack MacDonald resplendent in suit and topcoat walking the road before it was opened to traffic—the fulfillment of his life’s dream. It’s a pity the picture didn’t include Mary Weibe who Jack would have acknowledged, played such a crucial role in keeping the issue alive through some dark days.
Mary was nominally a Conservative back when the Conservative party still had room for people of moderate views; and was appointed returning officer for her riding in the Mulroney days. But in 2004 she entered the realm of local Liberal politics throwing her support behind Tony Valeri in his nomination battle with Sheila Copps; and typical of Mary she would use her organizational skills to help get some like minded people to the convention that ultimately selected Tony. She appeared at a high profile news conference in support of Valeri that included the likes of Ron Foxcroft of Fluke Transport, Tony Battaglia then of TradePort International, the late Arthur Weisz, Joe Mancinelli of the labourers union, Muslim leader Javid Mirza and former politicians Eric Cunningham and Conservative mayor Jack MacDonald.
Later she joined the Hamilton Port Authority Board and was remembered by former HPA Board Chair Larry Russell, as a valuable addition to the board with her no-nonsense common sense approach. In more recent years she was one of a group of citizens who were appointed to take a look at the contentious area rating issue.
To me Mary Weibe was a walking civics lesson.—someone who understood both the rewards and obligations of citizenship. Perhaps it stemmed from her family’s successful escape from Czechoslovakia at the time the Nazis were taking over. In any event she was a role model to many and will be missed.