Mary Lou Ling won’t be shopping at Eaton’s tomorrow.
That was Mom’s wry and gentle way of indicating that someone had departed this life, and on Sunday, July 10, at the age of 85, she joined her late husband, Justin.
It’s fun to think she simply stepped out and hopped into his T-33 jet, which was parked (well, mounted) just outside the Betel Home in Gimli, and off they went. She was fond of telling everyone that he had once flown that very aircraft.
Mary was born in Biggar, Saskatchewan (“New York is big, but this is Biggar!”) on December 7, 1925. As she was preparing to celebrate her sixteenth birthday party, the news came over the radio of the attack of Pearl Harbour. She told and retold that story to all of us, and never lost that annoyed and outraged set of her jaw when she remembered the day.
Justin and Mary met at a dance in Edmonton. He was the dashing RCAF pilot, she was a young girl with movie star beauty and a drop-dead smile. That Saturday night was their first and only date. The next day, after supper at her parents’ house, Justin shipped off to England.
They didn’t communicate for the next two years. On returning to Canada, Justin boarded a train bound for Edmonton, where he hunted down the girl he'd met, found her, and proposed marriage. They had known each other less than eight hours.
They were virtually inseparable for the next 62 years.
In 2008, her mind sliding into the abyss that is Alzheimer’s, Mary went to live at the Betel Home in Gimli. Only weeks later, his life’s work done, Justin stopped shopping at Eaton’s.
Those who knew Mom only in her later years missed meeting the lively, vivacious, funny, profane, mischievous, and loving woman her family and long-time friends so loved. She was an avid golfer, a Manitoba champion curler, and a crisp, professional businesswoman. But she was so much more.
Justin and Mary had six children, and in the first 25 years of their marriage Mary threw herself into the calling of motherhood. She was proud of the fact that in 1961 she was named Chatelaine Magazine’s Housewife of the Year.
In the early 1970s, with Justin serving on the Dew Line, Mary began working at a clerical position in a Winnipeg real estate office. She soon realized that there was nothing the salesmen were doing that she couldn’t do, and she launched herself into the business world with the same energy that she had devoted to her family in the early years. Within a year she became one of the first women to join the ranks of real estate brokers in Winnipeg.
She and Justin started Ling Realty (Ring-a-Ling!) and operated it successfully as equal partners until they retired to Gimli in the early 90s.
It is impossible to talk about Mary Ling without in the same breath talking about her life-long friend, partner, and husband, Justin. The two were quite literally inseparable - golfing together, curling together, raising a family, running a business, bickering, laughing, mercilessly teasing one another, travelling side-by-side through a rich and textured life; two halves of a beautiful whole.
Mary is survived by five of her loving children: Denise Wheeler (Robert), Kathryn Naud (Claude), Barbara Kelman (Craig), Nils (Joyce), and Andrea Campbell. Our brother Jay (Margaret) was taken from us in 2008. There are too many grandchildren and great-grandchildren to list here, but they all know she adored them and delighted in them, even if she wasn't always available to babysit. ("I'm going golfing. I've done my time.")
In her last years, Mary was given the loving care she so richly deserved by her daughter Andrea, who had moved back to Gimli. Barbara, too, pitched in with enthusiasm, and the rest of their siblings are grateful to them for their loving efforts.
We are relieved that Mom can finally join Dad, and yes, we are saddened by her passing. But mostly, we are grateful to have had such an inspiring and wonderful presence in our lives. She made the world a better place.
Flowers are gratefully declined. Instead, do something loving for someone special to you. That was how Mary lived and why she was loved so deeply by all whose lives she touched and changed.