Saint John's champion for the environment, Judy LeBlanc, succumbs to COVID at 69

·3 min read
A funeral service for Judy LeBlanc will take place July 4 at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Quispamsis. (Submitted by Judy LeBlanc’s family - image credit)
A funeral service for Judy LeBlanc will take place July 4 at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Quispamsis. (Submitted by Judy LeBlanc’s family - image credit)

Saint John clean air activist Judy LeBlanc, who struggled most of her life with health complications caused by lung disease, succumbed to COVID-19 on Wednesday at the Saint John Regional Hospital. She was 69 years old.

LeBlanc's daughter Shelley Roy said she and her brother Stephen were at their mother's side at the end of a terrifying ordeal that started with LeBlanc being rushed to hospital by ambulance the previous Sunday.

LeBlanc cherished her family, said Roy. However, during the pandemic, there were times LeBlanc had to isolate from the ones she loved most. She feared what the virus would do if she caught it, given her pre-existing conditions.

CBC ex Robert Jones item
CBC ex Robert Jones item

Her concerns were well-placed. COVID proved swiftly fatal for the grandmother of four.

"When mom knew she was going to go, she said she would go on her anniversary," said Roy, whose father died 11 years ago. "Mom always got what she wanted."

In an interview with CBC, Roy was able to laugh at times, cry a little, and express fierce pride.

"She was so kind," said Roy. "If my mom met you once you were a friend."

LeBlanc was also a model of strength, said Roy, even when she looked fragile.

Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press

By 1995, when LeBlanc was featured in MacLean's magazine as the "ailing Saint John housewife who campaigns to clean up the polluted air," Leblanc's weight had dropped under 100 pounds.

Around that time, Roy remembered her mother fighting to breathe while raising the family in East Saint John.

Growing up in the Lakewood neighbourhood near the Irving Oil refinery, Roy said her mother checked the air quality daily.

CBC ex Robert Jones item
CBC ex Robert Jones item

If levels of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide or any other pollutants were elevated, LeBlanc would not dare to go outside.

"It was just part of living in that area," said Roy. "It affected everyone but especially those with breathing difficulties and that was something that she wanted to make right."

"That's where her clean air advocacy came from."

Roy recalls hearing from doctors that her mother would never live long enough to see Roy graduate.

"But she did it. And she saw me get married, and she saw my brother get married."

Gordon Dalzell said LeBlanc was the pre-eminent leader of New Brunswick's clean air movement — a network that included Cynthia Marino.

Robert Jones item
Robert Jones item

Marino died in May 1995 following an asthma attack.

LeBlanc vowed to carry on in her memory along with Dalzell and the other founding members of the Citizens Coalition for Clean Air.

"She worked tirelessly, and she organized a petition," said Dalzell. "An immense amount of people signed that thing."

The petition, which called for a Clean Air Act, was delivered to the legislature.

In 1997, that Act was proclaimed.

It places responsibility for air pollution's harmful effects onto the emitter, and enables the provincial government to act swiftly against polluters where human health or the environment may be at risk.

"It recognized the right of the public to be informed about what polluters were up to, and it formalized the public right to participate in the regulations that control these big industrial polluters," said Dalzell.

"Before this Act, the public was shut out. Polluters could do what they wanted."

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Vaughn Blaney, who was New Brunswick's minister for the environment when the Act was passed, told CBC Thursday that he was sorry to hear that Leblanc was gone.

Blaney said he had a lot of positive dealings with the "group from Saint John."

"Judy was a tough customer," said Blaney "And a good friend."

"As a group we worked with government and industry to try to reduce emissions, to tighten up regulations."

A funeral mass will be held at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Quispamsis on Monday, July 4, at 10 a.m.

 

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