Mary’s death occurred May 26 at Calgary’s Chinook Care Centre following a brief Illness. Born in Glace Bay, her parents, Joe and Elizabeth (MacAdam) MacNeil, dealt with the Great Depression by moving with their first-born to forge a living in Johnstown, Richmond County. Gradually joined by four siblings, Mary was an essential member of a livelihood-centered family, in a community that provided many joyful and creative opportunities through church and school.
Mary graduated from Sydney Academy and Nova Scotia’s Normal College. Years later she completed a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of British Columbia. She taught in Johnstown and South Bar schools before moving to Ontario’s Separate School system in Burlington. In 1965 she joined the Calgary Catholic School District. She remained there for twenty-four years, becoming a school principal, and providing leadership at St. Catherine, St. Angela and St. Clement schools. Her quiet and reflective manner endeared her to students and colleagues.
Calgary was Mary’s home for 56 years. Her volunteer work there ranged from the characteristic Meals on Wheels, much needed house sitting, and drives to appointments for friends; to the uncharacteristic when she volunteered to help elect a Liberal candidate running in Tory Alberta. Most frequently were her drop-in visits and many phone calls to people just to make sure all was ok. Calgary life allowed for excursions to the mountains, to eat out often, especially at Oscars Deli; to participate in Grey Cup parties, and to be a valued and longstanding participant in the Maritime Octopus Club, and at least two Birthday Girls Clubs.
A kind and gentle person, Mary had many loves, but one of the greatest of these was music. With basic piano lessons, in Johnstown she played the church organ, led the little choir, and prepared children for school music festivals. Of all the genres, choral was her life-line, her heart-beat. An associate from earlier days commented that “Mary was a great treasure and remains so in the memories of Calgary Boys Choir, conductors, singers and parents.” She sang in several Calgary choirs and it was her commitment to making music that inspired her to remain a chorister for so many years, even performing in Ottawa for Canada Day. She frequented Calgary’s symphony and opera and seldom missed a concert featuring Cape Breton performers. She visited Cape Breton each year for the family’s fabled Thanksgiving weekend and completed the week by touring with friends to every possible Celtic Colours concert. There was always a song in Mary's heart and her soul was filled with music.
Despite living Out West, Mary never lost touch with her siblings Eleanor, Michael (Carole), and Teresa (Luke). She had special love for her youngest brother, Donald (deceased), a wise fellow whose wife, Peggy and children Lynn (John); Graham (Elizabeth), their children Nicole and Max; Kelly (Mark); Keri (Steve) and their son Jayden were the stars in his firmament. Mary also treasured Michael’s and Carole’s children, Joseph (Jennifer); Douglas (Laurie) and son Breton; Brenda (Robb) and sons Jeremy and Eric. She kept in touch with her foster sister, Elizabeth Tonet Woodley. Mary was predeceased by brother-in-law Luke.
The family would like to thank Mary’s friend Dr. Patricia Petrie who paid extraordinary attention to necessary details during Mary’s final days on earth. Thanks too, to John Rinkel and his family, and to Marlene and Jim Monk and family for their many kindnesses to Mary during her Calgary years.
Mary’s care has been entrusted to Evan J. Strong Funeral Services, Calgary. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, her friends in Calgary and family in Johnstown will announce respective memorial services at an appropriate time in the future. Contributions in Mary’s memory may be made to Cape Breton Hospice/Palliative Care Society, to a Calgary music organization, or to a preferred charity.
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