Thurles native Mary Turner (nee O'Brien) whose Memorial Service was held in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
Sir Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King were among previous distinguished recipients with Mary Turner a renowned trade unionist in the UK.
St Paul’s Cathedral played host to a memorial to the GMB trade union’s long-serving President Mary Turner CBE (1938-2017), who died last year. Nee O'Brien, she was a native of Thurles and was educated in the local convent.
The memorial, on February 27th, is thought to the first time this honour, previously granted to icons such as Sir Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, has been bestowed on a trade union leader.
Thousands of mourners descended upon St Paul’s Cathedral for the service at 11:00am which paid tribute to Mary.
Mary Turner, who died aged 79 in July 2017, was one of the most dynamic women members of the trade union movement, rising from school meals assistant to become president of the GMB trade union as well as chair of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee (NEC). She received both an MBE and a CBE for her campaigning work.
A passionate advocate of free school meals, a scourge of the National Front and a tireless campaigner for jobs and rights at work, Mary was a formidable campaigner for working people for many decades.
Mary, who was born in Thurles but had lived in London since 12 years of age, had been ill for some years but continued in her post as president, chairing GMB’s 100th annual conference in Plymouth in June last year.
Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary said: “Our Mary was a true giant of the trade union movement and the beating heart of GMB for decades.
“The memorial reflects the great legacy she leaves as a tireless defender of working people. It is hugely deserved.
“She left this world having made a real difference to so many people’s lives, and that's something we are all proud of.
“Be it fighting for dinner supervisors in Brent, for hungry kids to have free school lunches, for pensions, for young people - or taking on the National Front, Mary led our movement.
“They really did break the mould when they made Mary Turner. She may be gone, but she has left behind a union that will ensure the values and principles she fought tirelessly for will always endure.”
Warren Kenny, GMB London Region Secretary said:
“A servant to the people and hero of GMB, Mary gained the respect and recognition of everyone in GMB, the wider trade union and labour movement as well as those from all political spheres.
“Mary was a tenacious and unflappable trade unionist, combining toughness and care and soared through against all the odds. She was known throughout the labour movement for her indomitable stamina, kindness and compassion.
“Mary was everything that an outstanding trade unionist and socialist should be.
“Mary inspired so many to realise their potential in life as she dedicated her life to helping others.
“A giant, warm giving person whose passing will be mourned by all, Mary Turner will be remembered forever."
Born in 1938, Mary Turner moved from her home in Tipperary, to live with relatives in the North of England in 1947, before settling in Kilburn, London. Elected a member of the GMB’s central executive council in 1983, she was at that time the only woman out of 40 to serve on it.
In 1997, she was elected as National President of the union, a position to which she was repeatedly re-elected. A lifelong member of the Labour Party, she was elected onto the NEC in 1995, serving as its chair in 2003-04. A delegate to the Trades Union Congress, she spoke at every congress and in 2012 received the TUC Women’s Gold Badge.
Mary also received an MBE and a CBE. She had married her husband Denny in 1956, six weeks after meeting him. He died in 2015 and they are survived by their son John and daughter Denise – and their five grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.