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Long-time East Gwillimbury councillor Marlene Johnston dies suddenly

'You can’t think of East Gwillimbury and not think Marlene Johnston'
August 26, 2019
Simon Martin

East Gwillimbury has lost one of its foremost political figures after long-time councillor, Marlene Johnston, died suddenly Aug. 23.

Johnston had retired from council in 2018 after 30 years of serving the community.

The news shocked friends and former colleagues.

“She was a colleague second and friend first,” said former mayor and councillor, James Young, who served many years alongside Johnston.

“Marlene was there representing the town when I got my high school diploma at Denison. You can’t think of East Gwillimbury and not think Marlene Johnston. She dedicated her life to it.”

Young said Johnston was always working with her residents in mind -- whether it was bringing York Region Transit to East Gwillimbury, her ingenuity bringing the blue box recycling program to town or her tireless work on the environmental advisory committee.

He added she always took a collaborative approach with her council colleagues.

Young recalled Johnston bringing him a special memento when he was first elected Mayor in 2000.

“She brought me an Avro Arrow pin," he said, referencing the fact Johnston's father worked on the Avro Arrow.

"It was her way of saying this is something special. I still have that."

East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson, who worked alongside Johnson on council for 14 years, said Johnston will truly be missed in the community.

"Marlene dedicated over 30 years of her life as an active and passionate member of council and dedicated many hours to volunteering and working hard to make East Gwillimbury a better place,” she said, adding Johnston will be fondly remembered for her willingness to share her 30 years of knowledge, experience and history of the town.

"In her personal life, Marlene enjoyed raising her family and was very proud of her grandchildren, often sharing experiences and photos," she added. "I extend my deepest condolences to her husband, Alvin, and family.”

Few people have experienced Johnston’s tireless work ethic like Marjo Niemi. When starting the East Gwillimbury Farmers’ Market, Niemi said the group relied on Johnston’s appetite to get things right.

“She was always there for us. It didn’t matter what time or day,” she said. “She came to every meeting with us. She wanted to get us going so badly. She was an amazing lady. There is no other Marlene.”

When Johnston first started on council in 1985 she worked alongside Frank Kelly. The former councillor served with Johnston for 15 years and remembers her as a sharp mind.

“She was, to me, an excellent councillor and a good thinker,” he said. “She was involved in everything as far as I was concerned and always willing to help.”

Even when a decision wouldn’t go her way on council, Kelly said she would support it because it was the will of council.

Johnston served as a member of East Gwillimbury council for three decades from 1985 to 2018, including six years as Deputy Mayor.

She was passionate about serving her community and chaired many committees of council, including 12 years as the chair of the finance and budget committee, chair of the community infrastructure and environmental services department, and council liaison to the library board.

She was also instrumental in the founding of the East Gwillimbury Farmers’ Market, spending many years advocating for it and ensuring local agriculture was celebrated and accessible for residents to enjoy.

Flags will be flown at half-mast at the East Gwillimbury Civic Centre and Town facilities to honour Johnston. A book of condolence is available at the Civic Centre.