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Remembering a friend

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She spent her childhood on the coast of Brighton, England, her youth fighting on the west coast of Canada against the Vietnam War, and her adulthood advocating for an inner-city community in the middle of the Prairies.

Last week, family and friends celebrated the life of longtime North End activist and Luxton resident Judy Burns, who died July 6. She was 68

"She epitomized what it means to be a community activist, what it means to be an involved citizen," said longtime friend Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who held a memorial potluck in her home on July 16 in Burns’ memory.

"At every moment in the neighbourhood’s history, when we needed change and a proponent, she was there."

Burns’ legacy is too full of achievements to list them all, but her accomplishments can be found in schools and parks across the community.

Since settling into the North End in the early 1970s, Judy worked to build a new gym and play centre at Luxton School and helped Gordon Bell High School obtain ownership of its cafeteria. She also fought for funding for a walking and bike trail to connect St. John’s Park to downtown, and was involved in the Seven Oaks Historical Society.

Burns and Wasylycia-Leis had known each other for 30 years. Burns had worked for numerous years as a constituency assistant for the politician, whose office became a hub for worried North Enders as the area experienced a massive exodus of banks from 1997 to 2010.

According to Wasylycia-Leis, Burns helped advocate politically and publicly to persuade the Assiniboine Credit Union to establish itself in the community.

Though she knew every inch of politics, she never considered a career in politics herself, Wasylycia-Leis said.

"She wasn’t just a person of ideas, but someone who got her hands dirty and got involved directly in making a difference," she said.

Recently, Burns had helped to breathe new life into the Luxton Residents Association and encouraged young people to get involved in their community, board member Arlene Draffin Jones said.

"She was our mentor," Draffin Jones said.

"If we didn’t know who to call, it was ‘Ask Judy.’ She could always give us an idea."

Burns led a municipal election campaign for Draffin Jones in 2006 in Mynarski. Draffin Jones credits Burns for helping her finish second against longtime incumbent Harry Lazarenko, who served the ward for 32 years, despite little financial backing for the campaign.

"It was a wonderful experience and we had some of our ideas picked up," Draffin Jones said.

Raymond Burns met his wife Judy in Vancouver in the mid-1960s, when they both belonged to a local anti-Vietnam War movement, organizing protest rallies and producing and distributing leaflets condemning the war. Raymond caught her speaking at a rally, where he was also scheduled to speak.

"I met her few weeks before, but I didn’t really notice her because there were lots of us," he said.

"But, when she spoke, she spoke so impressively that I was impressed. So much so that we spent our life together. She spoke with wit and intelligence and passion."

The couple moved to Winnipeg in 1969.

Judy’s strengths were in organization, with an ability to focus on detail while still keeping an eye on the bigger picture, Raymond said.

"She was a person who could come into a situation and make sure that things happened. She wasn’t just someone who could cook up a pot of beans for a crowd," he said.

Judy enjoyed English detective shows, pop music, mainstream television, masterpiece theatre and potluck dinners.

A couple of days before she died, Judy was compiling her ideas and thoughts on Parcel 4, a plot of land up for development at The Forks. Judy wanted a full archaeological survey of the site to happen, Raymond said.

The two went to a dinner and opera at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and were planning to see its 100 Masters exhibit, Raymond said. Two weeks ago, they went to an organ recital at a St. James church. She had been planning to take her grandchildren to Despicable Me 2.

"She was looking forward to going to that," Raymond said.
Twitter: @timesWPG

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