Mary Bryniak close-upMary Bryniak was a member of the well-known O’Brien family, who were pioneers of vegan organic agriculture in the UK (her brother Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien wrote the landmark book ‘Veganic Gardening’). This is an edited version of the eulogy Mary’s friend Mike Wright gave at her funeral.

On November 14th 2015 we very sadly lost our good friend Mary Bryniak. Mary was a pronounced individualist, a passionate veganic gardener, a staunch vegan and a stalwart member of Isle of Wight Vegetarians & Vegans.

Mary was born ‘Muriel Mary O’Brien’ in Hull, Yorkshire and had two siblings: elder brother Kenneth and younger brother Peter. Mary was around eight years old when, much to her delight, her parents decided that it was time they all followed a vegetarian lifestyle.

In her last year at school the Second World War was declared. Her first job was in the Welfare Department of Needlers Chocolate Factory but, expecting to be conscripted when she was 18 and not wanting to be assigned to an animal farm, she took on a job at A&E West’s market garden/nursery at Cottingham, working with Land Army girls. The experience gained there later enabled her, and her mother Rosa and two brothers, to create Glen Park Nurseries in Leicester.

It was in Leicester that the family met Donald Watson, who was part of a group of vegetarians who avoided dairy products – and the O’Brien family soon followed suit! In 1944 Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society: their first newsletter records a membership of just 25, and the O’Briens were among these founders.

Mary Bryniak when she was young, looking at a sunflower, Glen Park 1946Towards the end of the war, or just after, Mary met Bryn, a Polish airman. He was an enthusiastic allotment grower so it didn’t take long to convert him to veganism! They married in June 1949 in Birmingham, living there until the 1960s, after which they moved firstly to Kent, and then to Hamble, close to Hampshire’s famous river.

Upon hearing of Mary’s passing, Norma Mulholland (a friend and neighbour in Hamble) wrote: “Mary and Bryn grew the most wonderful organic vegetables which they very generously shared with us. I have very happy memories of the times we shared … I will always remember Mary – she was one of the nicest people I have ever met.”

In 1986, upon retiring, Mary and Bryn decided to move to the Isle of Wight. They bought a bungalow in Yaverland with a large enough garden for them to continue to grow their favourite vegetables, herbs, etc. They continued their much-enjoyed pastime of ballroom dancing and also joined the Isle of Wight Vegetarian Society. And they travelled extensively, making several visits to Australia (where Mary’s brother Peter was living). Other favourite destinations were Austria and the Swiss and Italian lakes with their beautiful scenery and wild flowers.

In the mid 1990s Bryn, very sadly, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and he eventually died in 2001.

In 2012, Mary’s increasing frailty, and a nasty fall, saw her having to move into Firbank Care Home. She was able to secure a vegan diet and had people around her 24 hours a day, in case of further falls or other emergencies.

When we reach the Pearly Gates, I’m sure the main question asked is – as a human being, what exactly have you BEEN? I believe Mary should have responded: “thoughtful, compassionate and kind to all other living creatures.”

For those virtues, we will always remember her, and her work for the vegan cause. Mary saw the movement grow from those initial 25 members to over 150,000*** in the UK as it is today – and the introduction of a World Vegan Month!

You helped to bring that about, Mary! Thank you on behalf of all living creatures. It has been an honour to know you and count you as a valued friend – we will miss you greatly.

*** since this article was written, a survey in May 2016 by Ipos MORI of over 10,000 people estimates that there are 542,000 vegans in the UK

This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 37 (Summer/Autumn 2016), p31.