Thursday Tidbits

Posted on February 20, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

St.Ninian Street School


“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated.” Jean Vanier

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Sermon on the Mount. The Bible

I come from a small town in rural Nova Scotia. Every village, town, or city anywhere in this country or indeed the world has something to boast about. It is called community pride and while you can’t always see it in some tangible landmark, it is there with its own heartbeat. Antigonish is known as the home of the Antigonish Movement, the Highland Games, and the Coady Institute. A university and a regional hospital endow the community with talented people. We treat newcomers as family and friend

My lifelong friend and buddy, Mary O’Connell died earlier this week. Mary grew up on West Street, the daughter of Brian and Jean. She was part of a large family of very well educated and well -spoken people.

There was a time not all that long ago, that being born with a mental handicap was a source of shame. It was common for people with intellectual disabilities to be kept at home and away from the public. Some might say that Mary was unlucky, but I think that if you were to ask her to sum up her life, she would say that it was a very special journey. She might even say that she was lucky.

Mary was fortunate to be born in Antigonish and to be the daughter of Brian and Jean O’Connell. Nearly 50 years ago, the O’Connell’s, the MacIntosh’s and several other families started to make waves. These waves turned into a tsunami and today, the fruits of their labour are obvious in every nook and cranny of Antigonish.

One of the first initiatives of the then Canadian Association for Mentally Retarded (Sorry. But that’s what it was called back then) was the provision of a day program at the Antigonish Activity Centre, housed in the old St. Ninian Street School. The program grew and prospered as did the number of individuals taking advantage of this service as more and more families realized the enormous potential of their children.

Mary was one of the early attendees and when the new CACL Workshop opened in the early 1980s, Mary became a stalwart in the bakery. I had known Mary previously through family connections but as Administrator of the Workshop, I got to know Mary very well. I saw her daily as she marched purposely through the hallway, past my office and downstairs to the bakery. Mary wasn’t shy. I always knew what was on her mind!

Running the Workshop required a lot of money and while provincial funding was adequate, there was a perpetual shortfall. The organization decided to start fundraising in a serious way. I spent countless hours at Brian O’Connell’s kitchen table mapping out the public relations strategy. In the initial campaign, $40,000 was raised, a very sizeable figure back then. Brian was a PR wizard and we were able to get our message out clearly and affectively. Mary was one of those chosen to do a radio spot. The voice of the handicapped was literally and figuratively being heard.

Today, those with intellectual challenges are a part of the fabric of the community. They are full citizens, making a significant contribution. We continue to benefit from their wisdom.

Mary was particularly lucky to be surrounded by siblings who were very fond of her. Mary was their equal. She was their shining star.

May her star shine bright in the heavens.

Tri Mac Toyota!

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