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Marjorie Sharp: the ultimate volunteer

She no longer practices law, but Marjorie Sharp has never stopped working to make the world a better place.

We met one Sunday afternoon after it was announced that Sharp was among three Montrealers to be honoured with the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Distinguished Service Award for service to the Anglophone community, presented by the Quebec Community Groups Network.

She had just come from her church where, with the help of student volunteers, she had served lunch to a group of 50 welfare recipients and street people.

“We had Salisbury steak with salad, potatoes, carrots, juice and fruit salad – it’s the best free meal in the city, and they all know it,” she said with a huge smile.

It’s a system she helped set up as an active member of the Christ Church Cathedral on Ste. Catherine W. where she’s in charge of its social services society.

As her friend and colleague, retired lawyer Joyce Blond Frank, explained in nominating Sharp: “She has not only created the tools to help others but remains committed to and personally involved in making sure they function properly.”

Born and raised in London, into a working-class family, a young Marjorie, then the secretary to the literary editor of The Sunday Times, decided to accompany a colleague and move to Canada.

She found work as a secretary in a law firm, but having left school at 16, decided to pursue philosophy and literature at what was then Sir George Williams, now Concordia University.

“When I got my B.A. degree, my boss asked what I planned to do with it.”

He suggested she study law, recommended her, and she was accepted to McGill, continuing to work for the law firm after classes.

“It was a lot of work,” she said. Sharp graduated with two degrees in law.

“I didn’t find it that difficult. It’s supposed to be logical – that’s what I liked about it – it’s the people who are not logical.”

Some 15 years later, she earned a master’s degree (LL.M.) with a thesis on the parent-child relationship as expressed in the law, from the Romans until contemporary Quebec.

Her field was family practice, and it was a busy time for a divorce lawyer when the law was amended to make it easier. Sharp did it all while teaching commercial law at Concordia.

“I tried, with my clients, to keep it as amicable as possible. If a client said to me, ‘I want to take him to the cleaners,’ I would say ‘find someone else, I’m not the right lawyer.’ ”

She traces involvement in pro-bono work in social activism to the time she spent at the Women’s Y on René Lévesque as a resident when she first arrived in Montreal.

At one point, while at the Y, she was drafted to chair a committee on social issues, and her leadership skills were immediately evident.

Sharp was invited to join the board of directors and became a leader in improving the lives of those in the Anglophone community who needed assistance.

She set up LAbri en Ville to help those with mental health problems.

Sharp helped establish the women’s shelter, Auberge Madeleine.

She’s on the board of Camp Cosmos, which serves under-privileged children.

She’s a founding member of Elder-Aide, the non-profit group of professionals providing lectures, information, and referral to seniors.

Sharp contributes her professional expertise pro bono on the Ethics Review Board at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“I was really concerned with the consent form the patient was asked to sign. If I didn’t understand it, the patient or participant in a protocol wasn’t going to understand it.”

She still makes time to attend chamber music concerts and the theatre, including Stratford, which she visited this summer.

Sharp counts her church as one of her families. In continuing her social commitments, Sharp notes that the needs of the working poor are growing.

It’s not getting any better.”

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