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Community mourns Mary Gazetas

Mary Gazetas, one of the founders of the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project, passed away Tuesday morning. - Mark Patrick file photo
Mary Gazetas, one of the founders of the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project, passed away Tuesday morning.
— image credit: Mark Patrick file photo

Mary Gazetas, an artist, writer, activist and lover of the outdoors and her community, died Tuesday morning after a six-week illness. She was 68.

She passed away at Richmond Hospital from complications caused by an infection.

Gazetas was a former columnist with The Richmond Review, whose column Folio One offered readers slices of her life experiences in Richmond.

Raised in West Vancouver, Gazetas earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from University of B.C. and made her living as a designer and printmaker for film and theatre. She taught visual arts in Alberta until 1983 when she moved to Richmond and landed a job with the city.

Gazetas, a mother of three, was one of the founders of the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project, which evolved into the Sharing Farm. The program produces thousands of pounds of produce each year for needy families who rely on the Richmond Food Bank.

Protecting Richmond’s green spaces was a high priority of Gazetas, who was instrumental in the creation of Terra Nova Rural Park and in helping save the Garden City lands.

Gazetas was an avid kayaker, who wrote a book about her three decades of experience on the open water. In recent years she could often be seen around Richmond with her dog Hugo—a pair that worked hard to build up the spirit of her husband Aristides, who had developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Friend Dave Semple said Gazetas epitomized the spirit of Richmond and community, lending her talents and enthusiasm to everything from Britannia Heritage Shipyard to the Sharing Farm.

For a number of years Semple, the city’s general manager of parks and recreation, shared an office with Gazetas, who retired from the city in 2000, and got to know her exuberance firsthand.

Semple said Gazetas fought for the community without seeking accolades, and what drove her was a genuine love for people.

“Mary’s contribution was that she cared about people making a difference in the community and she facilitated that,” said Semple. “It’s a loss. It’s a gap. And it’s one that will be very very very hard to replace.”

Arzeena Hamir, co-ordinator of the Richmond Food Security Society, said Gazetas had a special energy and some crazy ideas, yet she drew a following and what she said seemed to make sense.

“I don’t know anyone who’s made such an impact on Richmond the way she did,” Hamir said Tuesday.

“We’re all still in shock. We all expected her to recover...we’re flabbergasted that she’s not around anymore.”

The family will host a memorial service and celebration of life on Saturday, April 21 in Richmond.

Details will be posted at lightacandleformary.wordpress.com.

“We want to thank all of the amazing, kind and supportive doctors and nurses at Richmond General ICU and the 3 South Ward,” Gazetas’ family said in an e-mail to The Richmond Review.

“We are all incredibly shocked and saddened by this unexpected loss...

“We ask that in lieu of flowers, please wait for upcoming details on her blog on how to contribute to a charity close to Mary’s heart.”

—with files from Martin van den Hemel

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