Mary Johnson obituary

Other lives: Dinner lady who was a leading light of the Irish community in Cheetham, Manchester

My mother, Mary Johnson, who has died aged 92, spent most of her working life as a dinner lady in Cheetham, north Manchester, where she was one of the cornerstones of the local Irish community.

She was born in Windfield, near Mountbellew, County Galway, to Patrick White, a farmer, and his wife, Bridget (nee Dempsey). After Ballinruane school she worked in a general store before emigrating to Britain in 1945 to take up a post as a maid in Cheshire. Two years later she moved to Cheetham, where she spent four years as a receptionist working for a medical herbalist before taking on the first of her jobs as a dinner lady, at St Chad’s school, where she stayed for 13 years, leaving in 1976.

She then took up a similar roles at the local Jewish hospital until 1985 and at Manchester Northern hospital, also in Cheetham, until she retired in 1990. Although she had arrived in Britain with virtually nothing, she managed to amass an impressive collection of shoes and had two large wardrobes full of clothes.

She married Seamus Johnson (known as Jim), who worked in construction and as a bus driver, in 1950. Both became founder members and volunteers at the Irish World Heritage Centre and at Irish Community Care, both in Manchester. Many people have fond memories of being helped by my mother on their arrival in the city; they found her to be a kind and generous soul.

She was also tough; she needed to be, as she had to bring up six children while also taking in lodgers and various younger siblings. Once when putting out the washing she fell over in the backyard and broke her knee, but dusted herself off, hung up all the clothes and then went inside to make herself a cup of tea before finally calling an ambulance.

After retirement she became even more involved with the Irish centre and went on many holidays with its over-50s group. She visited various places of pilgrimage in continental Europe – including Lourdes, in France, Fátima, in Portugal and Medjugorje, in Bosnia.

It was in her nature that when my mother became too frail to be an organiser at the Irish Centre she pretty much stopped going to any of its events. It did not feel right to her unless she was in charge.

Jim died in 1994. She is survived by their six children, Maureen, Ann, Jimmy, Helen, Julie and me, 14 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and a sister, Annie.

Peter Johnson

The GuardianTramp

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