Marie McLaughlin, a long-time Jamaica Plain resident, died peacefully surrounded by her adoring family on Oct. 5 in Plymouth. She was 82.
She was a woman who thrived on life; a generous mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother who passed her commitment to equality and fairness down through generations. Her actions throughout her life portray a soul with a fierce sense of justice and a moral compass that never went astray. Even in her last days, when her health was failing, she led a community meeting to fight for housing equity for the elderly community where she lived.
Marie lived on Haverford Street as a child, then moved to Peter Parley Road where she lived with her parents, Joseph and Blanche Campanella, and sisters, Rita, Joan, Anne, and Edna. The migration pattern was repeated later in life when she lived with her husband, John McLaughlin, and their young family on Haverford before moving to a new home, again on Peter Parley, where she lived and raised her family for more than 50 years. Here, she developed a network of bonds and relationships that sustained her throughout her life. With family, friends, and neighbors she participated in the social justice causes that have shaped the community we know today.
Her early life was rooted in Our Lady of Lourdes parish where she had attended school through the 8th grade after which she attended JP High when it was at 76 Elm St. Her commitment to her childhood parish was expressed by volunteering and committee participation. Her children John, Dianne, Annemarie, Michael, Joseph, and Janice attended Our Lady of Lourdes through middle school. Many family baptisms, weddings, and funerals were held in the church on Montebello Road just west of Washington Street. For much of the 1970s, OLOL was a thriving center of activism and civic engagement.
Community engagement influenced Marie’s life from her earliest years. She remembered fondly the day World War II ended, when the residents of JP began to spill out onto the sidewalks banging pots and pans. The crowds moved toward Jamaica Pond, spontaneously, and proceeded to march the circuit and come together in celebration.
A young champion for women’s rights, she demonstrated her fundamental belief in equality throughout her life. For example, Marie was told by her father as a young teenage girl that bicycle riding was inappropriate for women and she was forbidden from learning. She promptly went to the park on Cornwall Street and learned how to ride a bike anyway.
More recently, in a conversation about the Whole Foods protester arrests she scoffed at their pretense saying, “Pfffft! JP was gentrified in the 1970s!” Many neighbors that came in on that gentrifying wave of urban pioneering became her lifelong friends. It was then, in the 1970s, that she began to participate in the shaping of our community. While many were fleeing the city for the suburbs, Marie became committed to improving the quality of life in her neighborhood through volunteering, organizing, and working for organizations that were focused on “stopping I-95” and then on activities aimed at creating equity in both healthcare and in housing.
The community process that surrounded the cessation of plans to build an I-95 corridor that would have destroyed the neighborhood fabric is a model case study of how community involvement can shape the urban landscape. Land that was once slotted for a highway is now enjoyed by all as the Southwest Corridor Park, a place that provides green space and gathering while creating sustainable transportation pathways for the city. Marie’s involvement included tireless volunteering, and attendance at meetings and protests through the pinnacle of the Jamaica Plain fight. Even her children were involved by writing papers in school, giving presentations in meetings, and participating in a WGBH film on the process.
There was a growing awareness of the shortage of accessible health care in the community and Marie joined neighbors in the early development of Brookside Family Life Center (now Community Health Center). She was an early employee at Brookside where she worked for 10 years and then later served on the Board. Marie expanded her community interests into housing equity by joining Urban Edge as an employee supporting its strategies of home ownership and, initially, the renovation of larger multi-family housing units on Washington Street and in Egleston Square.
She returned to school late in life to earn at bachelor’s degree at University of Massachusetts-Boston and then followed it with a master’s degree in public policy, also at U-Mass. Before retiring, Marie worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the law offices of Maria Quiroga as administrative support addressing multi-unit housing development and housing policy.
Her partner late in life, Bill Koutrouba, had extended family ties in Southern California where they moved for several years before returning to the East Coast and settling in Plymouth. All the while, she read the JP Gazette religiously and was better informed about the goings-on in JP than most residents. She had been to most Centre Street restaurants, including the newly opened Centre Street Café, but she had a particular fondness for Doyle’s and JP Licks.
Marie lived life courageously and with love. She was a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and she was also a sister, companion, aunt, and friend. Marie provided for the people in her life through fabulous cooking and by opening her home – be it for an evening of partying or for a month when someone was in need. Those who have been touched by her have been touched deeply and carry her with them always.