Mary left us on a glorious summer morning after a full century of adventure, discovery, love, caring and concern for family and community. Seven months earlier, with COVID-19’s fifth wave raging, she’d celebrated her 100th orbit amid tributes and best wishes from across Canada and abroad. People remembered her kindness to friends and family, her dedication to community service and her dogged research into the lives and times of her forebears. They marvelled at the determination that kept her pursuing her best life — walking, exercising and inquiring, as long as mind and body allowed.
Mary’s life was bracketed by the great pandemics of our age. Her parents, Daisy Hardy and Cecil Martin, met in 1918 in an English hospital where Daisy was a nurse and Cecil a soldier sick with “Spanish flu.” They married in 1920 and settled in Springfield, Ohio, where Cecil worked in a machine shop. Mary was born the following year. Three years later, seeking better prospects, the family moved to Toronto.
With younger sister Alice, Mary attended Maurice Cody Public School and North Toronto Collegiate Institute. She became an accomplished pianist, in demand as an accompanist for school performances and at downtown venues, including Massey Hall. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1944 and owing to her prowess at mathematics was promptly recruited by Canada’s meteorological service. She spent the next four years receiving, organizing and plotting data from weather observations taken across the country.
Also working at Met headquarters on Bloor Street West was a young meteorologist, John Knox, back in Toronto after several wartime postings on the Atlantic coast. Love blossomed, and John and Mary were married in 1948. John transferred to the forecast office at Malton Airport (now Pearson International) and the couple settled in nearby Etobicoke on a corner lot with room to grow.
Children Paul, Roger and Sheila followed, each adding another layer to a household routine already challenged by John’s rigid shift rotation. Mary more than coped. She sewed and gardened. She organized piano lessons, cottage vacations and visits to cousins in the Newbury-Glencoe area. She learned to drive for an epic family road trip to the Pacific Coast in 1961.
But Mary was made for more than domestic life. Like many women in the postwar era, she’d quit her job because of civil service rules barring married couples from working in the same office. She never returned to the paid work force, but new outlets opened for her talent and energy, beginning with the Etobicoke branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women, where she was treasurer and then president.
Mary’s volunteer career expanded in Vancouver, where the family moved in 1965 after John was chosen to head the weather service’s Pacific region. Her attention was drawn to the serious gaps in social services left by decades of small-minded local and provincial government. She contributed financial skills and leadership to the Neighbourhood Services Association and the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia. She also developed a keen interest in her family’s history, tracing several lines of North American settlers back to the 18th-century British Isles.
With the children grown, Mary and John welcomed a stream of guests to their Kerrisdale home. International graduate students at the University of BC, where John obtained a doctorate after taking early retirement, found a refuge, dinner and orientation tips as needed. Years later, Mary would look back on the move to Vancouver as a life-expanding event. But in 1982, with all three children working in Ontario and her elderly parents still there, she and John headed back east to settle again in North Toronto. While John enjoyed a second career as a consulting climate scientist, Mary quickly found new ways to stay engaged.
She was a director of the Ontario March of Dimes. She was a volunteer at the McLaughlin Planetarium and later the Royal Ontario Museum. She continued to document her family’s past and provide love and support in the present, keeping her home a sanctuary for busy children and growing grandsons. She cared for John during his final illness, and after he moved into long-term care she began living on her own for the first time in her life. Her own last years were spent in retirement residence at Hazelton Place, a few blocks from the Met headquarters building where she and John first met.
Throughout her life Mary treasured the warmth of close family, the marvels of nature and the comfort of familiar places. She lived by the rules of the material world, investigating, measuring and recording details, the better to devise practical solutions for herself and others. She kept a notebook with dates and details of her sewing projects, complete with squares of the fabric she’d used. She had little time for metaphysics or the mystical. She enjoyed making wonderful meals — but here’s Mary on magic in the kitchen: “Anyone who can read can cook.”
Her genealogical research confirmed some stories and debunked others. In her mid-90s she was delighted to be told by a professor that she’d make a great master’s student in migration studies. No surprise there: to Mary the records and documents were essential, but what she really loved was situating her ancestors as characters in the great narratives of human migration and settlement.
Mary was predeceased by her husband, John L. Knox, in 2006 and by her sister, Alice Sharpe (Dr. Alice Martin), in 2021. Cherishing her memory are sons Paul (Lesley Krueger) and Roger, daughter Sheila (Jim Cobban), grandsons Gabe Knox (Anna May Henry), Peter Cobban (fiancée Nicole Krzak) and David Cobban (partner Jackie Evans), great-grandson John Rockford Knox, niece Jennifer Flatman, nephews Peter Dance and Robert Dance, and their families. She leaves cousins and in-laws in southwestern Ontario, Alberta, England, New Zealand and several U.S. states, and friends scattered around the world.
The family thanks Mary’s doctors, her allied health practitioners and the caring staff at Hazelton Place, Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital and the Temmy Latner Centre at Sinai Health for their skill and kindness. Special thanks to Geralyn Alon and Sheila Sales for personal support, to Amanda Kapsimalis for healing through physiotherapy, and to Daphne Jones for many years of devoted friendship.
Mary loved the excitement of cities, but she spoke fondly of the days when open spaces beckoned on Toronto’s northern fringe. A farm near the Martin home had horses for rent, and Mary fondly recalled riding with Alice along trails in the Don Valley, close by. You could see that terrain, with the river’s flanks layered in summer’s shades of green, from her room in palliative care at Bridgepoint. There, peacefully, Mary’s amazing century came to a close.
The family will gather privately at Mount Pleasant Cemetery to lay Mary’s ashes alongside John’s. Those wishing to make a donation in her memory might consider Porridge for Parkinson’s, a cause she warmly supported, at https://porridgeforparkinsonsto.org/#.