Mary Elizabeth Johnson has contributed to the Deaf community as a hardworking and willing volunteer for over 50 years. She was recognised in the 2010 New Years Honours list when she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM). Mary has been involved in the New Zealand Deaf community in both social and sporting activities with three different Deaf Societies: the Otago Deaf Society, the Manawatu Deaf Society, and the Auckland Deaf Society. She was a founding member of the Otago Deaf Society, where she served as president, and was also a founding member of the Manawatu Deaf Club. Mary has been involved with the Auckland Deaf Society since 1977, where she has been the president of the Senior Citizens Group of the Auckland Deaf Society and has been involved with many committees. Mary has served the Deaf Association of New Zealand and the Deaf Catholic Ministry, where she has been a member for over 20 years. Mary has also been an active member of the Mt Tabor Trust for over 20 years and has been involved with the New Zealand Sign Language Teachers Association since 1997.

  • Life Stories

St Dominic’s School for the Deaf

Television footage of Mary receiving communion from Pope John while visiting Auckland

Mary at St Dominic’s School for the Deaf, Island Bay, Wellington (Source: City District Health Nurse, Archives New Zealand)

Born in Dunedin on 9 August 1939, Mary was the eldest of four children born to Theresa and Stanley Johnson. Mary started school at St Dominic’s School for Deaf Children in Island Bay, Wellington on February 11, 1947, and was taught by the Dominican Nuns. The school then shifted to Aorangi, Fielding and Mary left in 1956.

Mary’s work with the Otago and Manawatu Deaf Societies

Founding committee member of Otago Deaf Society, Mary talks to Roy Williams (President) and past president, Gladys Dick at the society’s 25th jubilee celebrations.

Manawatu Deaf Society’s 50th celebrations. Lindsay Jones (Patron), Mary Johnson (ex-member and MDC founder) and Kevin Funnell (longest member).

Mary was made a life member of Otago Deaf Society in 1993. She explains how her involvement with the Society begun, “After I obtained employment in Dunedin as a bookbinder, I met Mr. Duncan who was a speech therapist. He introduced me to other Deaf youth in Dunedin.” In September 1956, Mary formed ‘The Young People for the Hard of Hearing’ Club. The Club became the ‘Dunedin Deaf Club’, and later the ‘Dunedin Deaf Society’. When they became incorporated, it was under the name of “Otago Deaf Society”.

Deaf Catholic Community

Carrying out Catholic work in Auckland with Daniel Beech.

In the Catholic Deaf community, Mary has done a lot of voluntary work since 1986, and continues to do so. In Auckland she worked alongside Daniel Beech before he became chaplain for the diocese, and was a strong advocate on the support committee during Daniel’s chaplaincy. When he passed away, she took over the role temporarily until a permanent appointment was made. Mary worked as a volunteer Pastoral Worker for the Catholic Deaf Community in Auckland.

Involvement in sign language

1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland. Mary is part of a choir of 600 people, including Deaf sign singers at the front.

Mary with some of her NZSL students.

Mary recognised as a NZSL Tutor.

Mary has been significantly involved in raising the public’s awareness of Deaf people and was involved in coordinating the first collection of photographs for the first New Zealand Sign Language dictionary. She was also involved with teaching sign language to the first group of sign language interpreters in 1985. Prior to the recognition and inclusion of New Zealand Sign Language in education, Mary was involved in teaching other oral and auditory modes of communication to improve Deaf education.

Mary has great interest in the New Zealand Sign Language Teachers Association (NZSLTA) and has been a qualified tutor for over a decade. She continues to do voluntary work as a NZSL tutor.