Remembering Gloria Paul, environmental and peace activist

Tracy Glynn and Gloria Paul at a rally to restore cuts made to the Department of Environment at the N.B. Legislature on Earth Day 2008.

Longtime environmental and peace activist, Gloria Paul of Hoyt, NB, passed away suddenly on March 18, 2017 at the age of 79, leaving her many friends in sadness and shock, but also full of fond memories of friendship and inspiration. Gloria was a writer of letters to the editor, a fan of Ideas with Paul Kennedy on CBC Radio and a giver of chocolate bars.

Having survived the London Blitz, a bombing air raid during World World II as a child, when Gloria spoke of ending all war, people listened.

Three weeks before her death, Gloria spoke about the environmental and human toll of war in my environmental praxis class at St. Thomas University, which she did with careful preparation each time for the last eight years. She spoke of the surprise that she received upon moving to what she thought was going to be sleepy rural New Brunswick. Instead, she found CFB Gagetown was her neighbour. The bombing tests on the base soon reminded her of the bombs that were dropped on her city as a child.

Determined to find peace where she lived for over forty years, Gloria created a sanctuary for people to stay next to one of the largest military bases in the British Commonwealth. In 1989, she enlisted the help of arbourist, Geoff Ritchie, to turn a neglected area into several acres of walking trails which were adored by countless people for decades. She operated Pilgrim House, a Christian retreat centre at her home with Yvonne Mersereau for decades, something that won the two women the YMCA’s Peace Medal in 2007. Gloria recently humbly inquired about nominating some old pines along her beloved trails for the Conservation Council’s The Great Trees of New Brunswick book.

Gloria Paul participating in a climate action in Fredericton in 2007.

Gloria enjoyed her work with Project Ploughshares, Voice of Women for Peace and an interfaith group of women who met regularly over food at The Palette. A founder of the Fredericton Peace Coalition in 2006, she regularly informed the coalition of news related to the campaign to stop military bases, she advocated for a Department of Peace and she distributed white poppies to remember the victims of war.

Steven Staples, a native of Fredericton and foreign affairs policy analyst with the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, remarked upon hearing of Gloria’s death: “She was an inspiration. We spoke many times over the years about our shared concern over rising militarism and its impact on the people and environment of New Brunswick.”

With the late Robert Young, World War 2 Veteran, Gloria stood beside us when some of us younger peace activists with the Fredericton Peace Coalition took the controversial decision to draw attention to how yellow ribbons were being used to promote uncritical support for the war in Afghanistan. She organized annual gatherings to mark the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing at the Peace Pole near Fredericton’s Walking Bridge. She spoke at our vigils for occupied Palestine and at our rallies marking the anniversaries of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reverend George Feenstra, who was often found entertaining the crowds at Fredericton’s peace rallies with his clown nose, guitar and song, said, “Gloria influenced me in many ways. Her peaceful passion turned me away from anger and towards patient persistence. I will treasure the many memories of time in her company.”

Gloria was a psychiatric nurse at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton. Marilyn Merritt-Gray, a nursing instructor, shared, “I always loved working alongside Gloria as a nurse, such a wise, deeply compassionate, storied professional. She was a terrific storyteller with a beautiful energy and spirit.” Gloria was a listener, which made her a compassionate nurse but you had to be careful what you said to her because she often repeated what you said to her years later. She held people and what they had to say in her heart.

Gloria was voice for Agent Orange survivors in the Saint John River Valley and in Vietnam, sharing the most horrific parts of warfare, including the use of chemicals on people, to classes of students and other audiences over the years. She wrote a play, “The Bombing Shelter,” about her experiences living through the bombing of London as a child and performed it at the Stepping Stone Senior Centre and at St. Thomas University.

Stephanie Coburn, President of the Conservation Council, and Gloria Paul, recipient of the Milton F. Gregg Award, at the award ceremony in Saint John in 2007.

Over the last few years, Gloria spoke out against the use of glyphosates and chemicals on the military base and by forestry companies to wipe out vegetation. She was worried about the link between spraying chemicals and cancer. Gloria was awarded an honorary degree for her activism from St. Thomas University in 2008 and the Milton F. Gregg Award for Environmental Activism from the Conservation Council of New Brunswick in 2007.

Always a warm person who carried the hopes of convincing everyone to the cause of peace, Gloria shared her feelings of indignation with her fellow travellers, those who did not accept the world as it is, living her days towards giving birth to a world where peace was always possible. When the chocolate bars came out, you knew it was time to get down to the serious business of making the dream of peace a reality.

About Tracy Glynn