Marion Dewar, Joyful Spirit

Oh heaven and hell, it’s been a terrible week for having exquisitely important people taken from us.  After posting about Richard Wright, I said I hoped it was the last time I’d be talking on this blog about death for awhile.  It’s not to be.  Marion Bell Dewar, a feminist hero of mine and of many, has died tragically after a terrible fall at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Though 80 years old, Marion was a going concern in Toronto and died in full flight:

Marion Dewar, a former mayor of Ottawa and one-time New Democratic Party member of Parliament, has died after an accident in Toronto.

Dewar, 80, died Monday of injuries sustained during a serious fall on Friday in Toronto, her son Paul Dewar confirmed in a statement Monday.

Her two sons and her daughter were with her at the time.

She had been in a coma since the fall, which took place while she was attending the Toronto International Film Festival.

Born in Montreal, she was first elected alderman in 1972 and served as Ottawa’s mayor from 1978 to 1985.

During that time, she organized Project 4,000 to bring to the city Vietnamese boat people, refugees of the Vietnam War who had spent years in Asian refugee camps.

After leaving municipal politics, she became president of the NDP and then was briefly elected to the House of Commons as MP for Hamilton Mountain in a 1987 byelection. She passed on her enthusiasm for politics to her son Paul Dewar, who is running for re-election as the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre.

Later, she took on a number of leadership roles within community organizations, including chair of Oxfam Canada. She became a member of the Order of Canada in 2002.

Ed Broadbent, a former NDP leader and former NDP colleague of Dewar, called her “a joyful soul” and “a remarkable champion of what was just and right” both at home and abroad.

“She was a happy warrior,” Broadbent said. “She just had an ongoing desire to do good.”

In recent years, she continued to be involved in social movements and community events, said Brian Bourns, who was on city council when Dewar was mayor.

“She [was] still in demand as public speaker and still going to events with considerable energy at 80 years old.”

He described her as someone who showed true leadership and had a personal connection with many, many people.

“I think what was most remarkable about her was how well she could really just touch people in their soul,” he said Monday.

When he first ran for city council at age 30, he had trouble keeping up with the Dewar, who was in her 50s, he said.

“It was quite a challenge to get across the energy that she had.”

Bourns recalled that when Dewar heard about the plight of the Vietnamese boat people and learned that Canada could take 4,000 refugees, she resolved to take all 4,000 into her community, ultimately opening up Canada’s immigration and refugee policies as a result.

Phuong Lethebinh, who came to Canada as a Vietnamese refugee in 1979, said Dewar’s death is like the loss of a family member to his community.

Sleep the sleep of the just, Marion.  My sympathies to Marion’s family.  I can’t imagine the shock and grief.

Some links for obituaries and tributes to Marion:

Paul Dewar’s Site

Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Sun

NFB documentary on Marion DewarA Love Affair with Politics

I’ll update the links as they come in.  Paul Dewar is, of course, in the middle of an election campaign.  I’m sure there will be plenty of support for him so that he can carry on, but what a burden.

If you’re an Ottagonian, there will be a book of condolences available to sign at Paul Dewar’s re-election campaign headquarters at 170 Booth Street.  You can also send condolences to the family via Paul Dewar at

My heart is sore.

UPDATE:  NDP Leader Jack Layton’s statement on the death of Marion Dewar.  I just decided to come back and post the statement:

Today, we Canadians lost one of our heroes.

On behalf of New Democrats throughout the country I offer my deepest condolences to Marion Dewar’s family, friends and all those whose life she touched.

Marion Dewar was a remarkable champion of what was right and just.

Today we don’t simply mourn the passing of one of the bravest women new Democrats have known – we also celebrate her groundbreaking career and her spirit and joy for life. We celebrate her 7 year contribution as an outstanding mayor of Ottawa.

She started her public service on the front lines of Canada’s healthcare system as a nurse with the Victorian Order of Nurses and ended her career as a passionate national advocate for progressive ideas and ideals.

In 1979, as Mayor of Ottawa, she helped launch Project 4000. She succeeded in finding sponsors for over 4,000 Vietnamese refugees in Ottawa. I know Ottawa’s growing Vietnamese community mourns with us today.

Again, on behalf of New Democrats we offer her family our deepest condolences.

UPDATEDr. Dawg on Marion Dewar

3 thoughts on “Marion Dewar, Joyful Spirit

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