Margaret Healy wore her Irish-Catholic roots proudly in Montreal. Alan Hustak

Margaret Healy was a ‘force of nature’

By 
  • June 6, 2020

MONTREAL -- When Margaret Healy came calling, it was hard to say no.

A woman of steely charm, Ms. Healy was the long-time den mother to Montreal’s Irish Catholic community. She was 89 when she died on May 24, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was a symbol in the community, an icon, a civic treasure,” said former Mayor Denis Coderre, who first worked with Ms. Healy in the early 1990s when he sought election as a Liberal Member of Parliament. “Everyone knew Margaret.”

She leaves a lengthy list of accomplishments. In 2005, she became the first woman after almost two centuries to be named Grand Marshall of Montreal’s annual St. Patrick’s parade. She served as president of the United Irish Societies (UIS) in 1998 and had been a long-time warden of St. Gabriel’s Church. She was a board member of the Catholic Community Services, the Good Shepherd Community Centre and the English-speaking Catholic Council.

She was also a tireless fundraiser who helped establish the Irish Studies program at Concordia University.

Ms. Healy was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal and was recognized by the Quebec National Assembly and by the Irish government for her community work.

A life-long militant party organizer, she helped raise money to finance Justin Trudeau’s campaigns. 

On news of Ms. Healy’s death, Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller posted a tweet that called her a “force of nature and pillar of the Irish community in Montreal.”

The eldest of three daughters in a prominent politician’s family, Margaret Maude Healy was born in Montreal on July 30, 1931. Her father, Thomas Patrick Healy, was the Liberal MP for St. Ann’s from 1940 until his death in 1957, and sat as a Montreal city councillor for the same district for 12 years, from 1938 until 1950.

Ms. Healy grew up in Pointe-Saint-Charles, attended St. Gabriel’s elementary school and then went to a boarding school in St. Laurent run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.

“We were taught through example that our duty was to love God, respect others, care for our neighbours and help those in need,” she told author Dave Flavell for a book, Community and the Human Spirit.

She took a business course offered by the sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame and, while still in her teens, honed her considerable social and political skills as the appointments secretary in her father’s Montreal office.

In 1952, she married Anthony Sherbo, an electrician with the Department of Public Works. They had two children. After the marriage failed, Ms. Healy went to work with a public relations firm to support her family and began volunteering at the Cedars Cancer Fund at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

In addition to being chair of the United Irish Societies, she was instrumental on the organizing committee that brought the Irish immigrant ship Jeanie Johnston to Montreal. 

Even illness did not slow her down. In 2014, the Christmas baskets distributed by the UIS to needy families at Christmas were packed under her supervision at her home, and four years ago she walked through sub-zero temperatures in the annual St. Patrick’s parade.

She leaves her children, Sheila and Michael, and two grandchildren. Her second husband, Ken O’Donnell, died in 2016.

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