She was a mother to many more children than she gave birth to. For those of us who flew the family coop, moved to Tillsonburg, and were luck enough to volunteer in one of Marion Pratt’s many endeavours, we found surrogate parents in her and hubby Bill.
The first time you, the stranger, entered a room one of them would come over to welcome you. Marion had an automatic homing signal the latched on to loneliness. She’d come over find out who you were, why you were here without family and bring you into the Pratt fold. Once that happened, you had someone to turn to if you were in any kind of need.
I knew Marion best from saving Annandale House, when it stood alone, and when it was paired with the museum. Marion was one of those at the beginning of Tillsonburg Historical Society, and has worked tirelessly to save and promote history in town.
When I think of Marion I always picture her at the strawberry socials on Annandale House’s lawns or coming out of the little kitchen in the museum’s program room. You can imagine how stunned I was to learn at Marion’s funeral that she was a lousy cook! Children and grandchildren regaled us with stories of her cooking failures. Little did I know of that kinship with her! So I must say, if she didn’t cook the great treats she brought out of the kitchen then she contacted the right bakers in the group or went to the right stores to get the good stuff.
I always knew Marion was devoted to Tillsonburg, but I was still surprised at the funeral by the number of groups she volunteered with and the decades she gave them of her life. I knew of the historical work, the Food Bank, and the multitude of Cancer Society fundraisers, Heart and Stroke fundraisers, but I didn’t know the Curling Club, Tri-County Agricultural Society, Victorian Order of Nurses, Registered Nurses Association and more, and more. Marion didn’t just go do a job when people were needed, she was there full-time and would end up on the board and eventually the executive, helping to build the group up and steering it into the future.
She also had a career as a nurse to which she was perfectly suited. She had the passion, love, and empathy needed to heal the sick and that spilled over into everyday life. She knew when someone was lonely, stressed, overwhelmed or not feeling well. She didn’t wonder what the problem was, she came to you and found out. She would look you in the eye, clear her mind and focus totally on you. Her advice was always thoughtful and wise. If advice was not needed, then her warm and caring hug would raise your spirits, just knowing someone really, really cared.
When she and Bill moved to town there was no nurses union, only the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario with county chapters, where she would work to improve the lot of the nurses and help to further their education with workshops. She would even judge baby contests, so she could check over the health of the babies and help the mothers.
Her life was her family and friends and her love, her husband Bill, who so many in town know for his years with the Tillsonburg News and his tireless community work. They were a team. They worked on some projects together, yet they still shared their individual community passions.
She was recognized in town, finally, for all her giving, by being named 2012’s Citizen of the Year by the Tillsonburg District Chamber of Commerce. After receiving that, she didn’t sit down and retire, she motored on and even went on the committee to help choose a new Citizen of the Year. She was also awarded the Queen's Jubilee Diamond Medal, a Tillsonburg Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellowship and numerous provincial, federal and charitable acknowledgments over the years.
Marion, after becoming Citizen of the Year, should have been held up before the children of Tillsonburg as a hero and been invited to the schools and clubs, to inspire others to give as she did.
Heroes should not be multi-million dollar athletes, or movie stars who are improving their own lives; not ours or our town's. Heroes should be the men and women who live in our town and who give tirelessly to improve our people and town.
Why were flags at half mast for Stompin’ Tom, who wrote not a very nice song about conditions in tobacco fields, but used our town’s name in the chorus?
Our town’s flags should have been at half mast to honour Marion Pratt.
Society is becoming more and more selfish, while churches, charitable groups and most service clubs are dwindling in numbers. Volunteers are too often taken for granted, not usually by the group they help, but by a community who expects events to happen.
Do you know where all our local sports heroes pictures are? Prominently in the Community Centre. Do you know where there is a picture/plaque honouring Citizens of the Year like Marion? I didn’t think so.