I knew Maureen Reilly as an ardent and committed student and women's rights advocate during her U of T days. Back then, no one had a clue this urban activist would fall in love with a farm and then go on to become the country's frontline defender of agricultural land from the hazards of toxic city-waste.
But though she was raised in Toronto, she was born on Manitoulin Island and perhaps it was her destiny to become one of those precious early bridge-builders between city and rural issues. For a good part of the last two decades, until her sudden death last week (December 11) at 58, Reilly was the continent's preeminent researcher and campaigner against land application of sludge onto farmland.
She was the go-to person for local communities throughout North America aiming to fight industrial and municipal proposals to rebrand these toxic effluents of various types and consistencies as "fertilizer" and beneficial "biosolids". Reilly had the kind of expertise that got her standing at the Walkerton Inquiry and she was recognized by the Ontario Government for her work. She partnered with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations on the food and water issues that were her specialty. If sludge was on the table, Maureen Reilly was there to be reckoned with.
"I'm Canada's Sludge Queen," she would say with the kind of wry smile and sense of irony that were as much a personal trademark as her articulate mastery of toxicological studies and plain logic that said that these waste products were not okay for growing food.
Her listserv SludgeWatch, was the backbone of the ongoing advocacy service she kept alive for people and communities struggling with these problems.
Reilly's involvement started as a personal battle when the land around her beloved farmhouse near Kirkland in the Kawarthas became toxified with sludge. Reilly was a self-contained person who always chose her own path but this one chose her. Once rallied into action, she was a fierce and persistent warrior to the end though the work did nothing for her financial well-being or even her sense of personal security.
Along with a few nasty enemies, she accumulated many friends and colleagues who valued her research and advocacy throughout Canada, the USA and Europe. Maureen was engaging and hilarious, wise and compassionate, a force to be reckoned and, sadly, vulnerable. She will be dearly missed by many including her brothers and their families: David & Kathy and Peter & Sharyn and her nephews and nieces. A celebration of Maureen's life will be held Saturday December 22, 2012 from 1-4pm at the Society of Friends (Quakers) House 60 Lowther Avenue (parking off Bedford Rd, north of Lowther) in Toronto. Light refreshments to follow.