Volunteer with hidden credentials leaves Peace House Community grief-stricken
After quietly volunteering for over 20 years in our South Minneapolis neighborhoods, Mary-Anne Martin Bellamy lost her long struggle with chronic illness July 20 in her native Canada.
Each summer she would rejoin family north of the border when her husband, Michael, ended his school year responsibilities as an English professor. She would turn over her weekly coordinating day at Peace House during those weeks to other capable hands and all summer she would send postcards from Canada to souls who waited for them and regarded them as jewels. We grew accustomed to missing her until the fall, when she returned. At the end of September we gathered at Maria’s on Franklin Avenue to celebrate her life and will gather again Thursday, Oct. 6, at Peace House to once more celebrate her life.
Two countries claim her, for her compassion and her intellect were incomparable, even when compared with her father and brother, the latter serving as a Canadian prime minister, the former as finance minister instrumental in shaping socialized medicine during the Trudeau Administration.
Mary Anne had worked as a journalist and was staying in an ashram in India when she met her husband, who was serving in the Peace Corps. It was the ’60s. Lucky for us he brought her here and she found Peace House.
As a committed volunteer she’d call her husband’s fellow faculty members and their families at all hours and coax them into making meals in their own homes for 60 to 100 people. She’d swing by with her little, mixed-breed, wise, hairy hound named Windsor, pick up all the food, and then pick up some of the people who couldn’t get to Peace House as easily. She recruited amazing volunteer coordinators; she bravely challenged the blockages in the Catholic Church (which was still the Church she embraced through all its growing pains.); she invited those without family to become a part of her family, incorporating movie nights and dinners to assuage any of their loneliness.
She could dress to knock your socks off and look like Coco Chanel herself, or show up in a worn wool flannel. (She knew how to use wardrobe therapy.) She knew cars, football, the Queen’s French, and all kinds of music. In person she was not quiet, just quiet about all the good she did and her prominent family.
As her friend, I attest her life was served in a uniquely steadfast commitment to helping others overcome loneliness, discrimination, poverty, addiction and disenfranchisement. That someone as luminous as Mary-Anne should work in relative obscurity was always a source of astonishment to me. Not once in our 12 years of friendship did she ever ask for attention or credit to be given to her for her unflagging resolve to help others. Lest you think her giving was only monetary, let me promise you she rolled up her sleeves and dug right in. She suffered not committees or protocols. Her car, her computer, and her phone kept her making our lives so much better even after her childhood Crohn’s disease led to bouts of lung cancer, meningitis, tongue cancer, and shortness of breath. She debated having more surgery and opted instead for the glorious days of summer.
The grief on both sides of the border is great. She left much like Rose Tillemans, the founder of Peace House did. Frail, weary, reluctant in her exit ... hoping for another breath. I can almost hear her asking as I did Rose, “Did I do enough? Are they prepared to live without me? Am I prepared to live without them?” We have no choice. Or maybe ...
I return to the circle where we met. Rose’s circle. Conceived by Rose to welcome all, be for all, and dialogue with all, a new appreciation of each other. From all walks of life, no cliché this. Mary-Anne walked with kings and queens. Child of a leader, sister of a prime minister, befriender of many, she built a following of faithful kindred spirits inspiring us with hope to endure and persevere because it was what she did. Against all odds and with laser vision.
She remains a part of us, like Rose. Her forceful individuality and her particular journey emblazoned our starless nights. Her early years, so different from most of us, and suffused with a certain inexplicable isolation, yielded in her such a harvest of true humanity and compassion I can only weep because I would like to write so much more of this woman who did walk with kings and to quote Kipling, “keep the common touch.”
She included in her character the temerity to say what she thought and be who she was. It was at first disarming and then compelling. You could count on her to be authentic. You could count on her to be so real, to beat her chest, to grasp for breath to speak her piece, ... to speak her peace.
Mary-Anne is survived by her husband, Michael, professor emeritus of English at the University of St. Thomas, daughter Katie who works for the United Nations Food Program and is currently in Libya, daughter Julie who writes and performs music and will reside here for a time in leave of her music scene in New York to carry on her mother’s legacy, her brother, the Right Honorable Paul Martin, and all her friends at Peace House.