- by Andrew Irving
- The Guardian
- Issue #2044
Community and political activist, union shop steward, strong and determined leader, catering manager, impressive fundraiser, generous donor and always a warm comrade.
Mary Kalaitzis was born on 6th September 1946, in Neo Petritsi, Serres Greece.
Mary was a proud Greek of Vlach origin from a family that struggled in the National Resistance movement. Her father, Ioannis Kalaitzis, served in Gyaros and Makronisos and was once arrested by the police and sent to the prison in Drama.
There they tortured him and others inhumanely by tying prisoners together in pairs with handcuffs by their left and right legs. Then they took them to rocky, uneven ground and made them run. One fell and inevitably the other too! Her father had broken ribs and was writhing in pain.
Mary could tell many stories of the suffering of the thousands of tireless fighters who wanted a free and democratic Greece, a Greece of equality and social justice.
In 1969, as political activists Mary and her husband Savvas had to leave Greece and came to Australia to escape the repression and the threats of the Greek dictatorship.
Their commitment to the workers remained solid and after a few years they became members of the Greek Democritus Workers’ League and the newly formed Socialist Party of Australia in 1972.
Mary and Savvas were both first and foremost clothing workers and militant activists. Mary became a worker at GloWeave and was a shop steward from 1980-89 and member of the committee of management and executive of Clothing Trades Union.
Mary became a strong and determined leading member of the large progressive Greek community in Melbourne, participating in the peace movement and May Day marches.
She was a long-term member and on the committee of the Association of National Resistance Fighters. On the weekend that she went into hospital she was to receive a well-deserved award for her work in this Association. Equally she has had along service in and leadership in the management committee of the Democritus League, an important centre for progressive Greek people in Melbourne.
Comrade Mary has always entered into her activity as a Party member taking our policies to the community. She was always a ready and reliable participant in Party life and activities.
She was a most active and hardworking comrade both politically and as an organiser, bringing support to the Party from the Greek community for the SPA/CPA. Mary also worked in support of the KKE (Communist Party of Greece), in their fraternal struggles in the community here and in Greece.
Over all her time here she has recognised, promoted, and organised celebrations for significant leaders and events in the movement for Comrades like Nikos Belogiannis and many historical and cultural events like the Polytechnic commemoration. Mary was always there ready to help and work.
From 1990 to 2010 Mary ran her takeaway shop in Clayton. This meant long hours of hard work and difficult conditions. But she was always available and ready to help the Party and community.
For all of my life in the Party I have known and appreciated the commitment of Mary and Savvas. I met them at the first Greek dinner dance in Elizabeth Street I attended as a Young Socialist League member in mid-1970s. How could I forget, as I won the first prize in the raffle, a satin quilt that took me another eight years to raffle off again!
It was a family of struggle. The Young Socialist League also had Mary’s son and daughter, John and Jenny, who were leading members, with central activities being the Greek dance group, cultural events, solidarity with the Polytechnic memorial, and relations with KNE (Communist Youth of Greece). And of course, the Young Pioneers’ soccer club. Which meant that every week the Club Committee John and I met and had dinner after training at Tait Street Fitzroy.
Mary and Savvas were our senior veterans but never retired, contributing to Party meetings, education, and organising activists.
They were the most reliable and hardworking comrades, a powerhouse in managing the Party’s major events. Even after work long hours at the shop Mary would prepare the food for a function.
Mary and Savvas were the biggest fundraisers, seller of function, and raffle tickets. Guardian distributors and donors.
She always declared herself available to help and ready to participate. More recently, when it was difficult for her to walk, she was there happy to sit at a stall with the also tireless Eleftheria Gagatsaki, and sell various badges, books, and promotional leaflets for peace, disarmament, labour rights, and socialism.
Through all the difficult times for the Party, Mary and Savvas have given long-term leadership, with determination, political commitment, and strength.
Rest in power, friend, mother, and comrade.