She is the 2010 Alberta PC Party Volunteer of the Year. What makes her remarkable isn’t the fact that she gives tirelessly to the PC Party, but the story behind why she does it. The Calgary Foothills PC Association is so proud to have a wonderful woman like Mary on their Board and as their President; it is such an honor to write this blog about her.
Mary moved from Northern Ireland to Calgary, Alberta in 1976. She remembers the politics in Ireland before she left as extreme. “You were either a radical Protestant or a radical Catholic – there was no middle ground.” She recalls a Protestant man getting shot near her house while riding his bike. Her Catholic neighbour told her there must have been a story behind it, as though to suggest nobody is innocent. This conversation convinced her it was time to start a new life in Canada.
She spent her first few years in Canada observing what she refers to as a very different political system. She realized that in this country, individuals have the power to make a difference. As a new Canadian, she found the confidence to join a political party and be a part of that change. Mary spent many years volunteering for the PC Party and she made many great friends along the way.
When her grandson Daniel was born she felt compelled to get involved in a much more intense way. Daniel was born with a serious mental and physical disability and would be unable to take care of himself. Her daughter, who was only 23 years old, was scared to death. After 8 months, her daughter’s marriage had split up. She thought she would be facing the challenging years ahead alone.
Mary Davis took every opportunity she could to voice her opinion strongly and stridently. She spread the word that changes were needed in the ways the government helped disabled children and their families – and the government was listening. To this Irish woman, this was an amazing feat. The government valued her input and brought forward sweeping changes that would help families of children with disabilities.
Mary personally thanks Iris Evans, Pat Nelson and Karen Ferguson for their efforts to evolve the family care system to what is looks like today. She told me a story about her daughter, a single mother in her second year of law school, caring for a severally handicapped child. “She phoned what was at the time called family care services. A front-line worker actually told her that he thought that she was trying to profit off her disabled son. It was absolutely horrifying and insulting,” she recalls. She called the case worker a few years later when Daniel was turning seven years old to request a larger wheel chair. “They knew little about Daniel’s life. The case worker had never actually met him, so he didn’t even know that he needed a wheelchair.”
At the time Iris Evans was Minister of the newly created Children’s Services Department and she wasted no time in taking action. She brought forward the Support for Families of Children with Disabilities Act and introduced sweeping changes to the department. Minister Evans even made all of the front-line workers reapply for their jobs once the changes were made. “She showed incredible leadership. It was great governance at its finest,” Mary said.
“The new Act made a big difference in our lives,” she recalls. “Daniel got the best care and the family got the appropriate support.” As a result of this care and support, Mary’s daughter was able to finish law school, complete her articling and become an active member of the Law Society.
The years Mary spent in the children’s hospital watching other families were very sad for her. She remembers observing new immigrants with children who had severe cerebral palsy or spinal bifida. “It was heart wrenching to watch these families – not able to speak any English and having such a difficult time just surviving; never mind trying to deal with an inflexible bureaucracy.”
The number one goal of the new Act was to change the way the front-line workers dealt with their clients and the public. “They wanted to make Children’s Services more accommodating, professional and respectful,” explained Mary. The department now not only helps the parents and guardians, but also the siblings of the disabled child. “Siblings of severely handicapped children are often left to grow up alone. The government’s holistic, family based and progressive approach to these services has improved the system tremendously,” said Mary. She is so passionate about this topic, in the way she speaks about it and in the tone of voice she uses. It’s fantastic – her key role in making these changes inspires me, and the entire Calgary-Foothills Board. Speaking up is one of the most important things we can do as citizens – we take it for granted and often don’t do it enough.
When she moved to Canada, Mary Davis was so impressed with the Canadian political system and she felt privileged to be a part of the Alberta PC Party. But when her grandson was born, she was “fanatically” motivated to get involved and fight for changes. She spoke up!
Mary Davis never looked back and has never stopped working. She is an amazing lady with a beautiful heart. She is proof that in Alberta, every individual can make a difference. She is typically the first person to volunteer for the next event, fundraiser or even to bring snacks to a board meeting. She is always one of the last to leave these functions as well; she cleans up and makes sure she makes time to touch base with everyone in attendance – old and new.
Mary Davis is the very deserving 2010 Alberta PC Volunteer of the Year.
Congratulations, Mary – we are so proud to know you!