Remembering Suzanne Johnson-Harvor: A Grandmother to Us All

Remembering Suzanne

By Jess Tomlin (Executive Director of The MATCH Fund) and Otis Moore (Grandson of Suzanne Johnson Harvor)

Today, Canada lost one of the most inspiring activists we have known. Suzanne Johnson Harvor (1932-2016) was a woman who gave her life to both civil rights movements and to women’s movements around the world. She was a woman who did more from her kitchen table than most of us do in a lifetime.

Working almost entirely behind the scenes, Suzanne is the woman you have never heard of who paved the way for your wildest dreams. She was ahead of her time, breaking new ground for women at the grassroots level. She raised this feminist grandson. She mentored this feminist fundraiser. She built The MATCH International Women’s Fund (known 40 years ago as MATCH International) because it was right. Because it was needed. Because, for women around the world, it was often a matter of life or death.

Rising to the challenge of the United Nations’ Decade of Women (1976-1986), Suzanne co-founded The MATCH International Women’s Fund with Dr. Norma Walmsley. Together, they quickly established a talent sharing bank for Canadian women entrepreneurs, farmers, teachers, and healthcare workers. Then they created a “switchboard operation” to connect women outside of Canada’s borders with financial resources raised entirely by Canadian women. Within the first year, Suzanne had secured 85 members from across Canada. By the next year, The MATCH International Women’s Fund was already supporting a handful of grassroots women’s groups for projects such as accessing clean water in Tanzania and building a commerce hub for female entrepreneurs in Swaziland. By the time Suzanne officially retired from the board of The MATCH Fund, the organization she had built was changing lives: ending female genital mutilation in Malian villages, supporting battered women’s shelters in India, and helping women access abortions in Peru.

But what strikes us is that The MATCH International Women’s Fund was not Suzanne’s life’s work. Rather, she co-founded The MATCH Fund late in her career. By that time, she had already launched and run the very first volunteer recruitment centre for CUSO in Toronto in the early 60s and she had spearheaded CUSO’s expansion to Kano, Nigeria. She had served on the board of International Students’ Centre, Save the Children, and the U.S.-based Student Non-Violent Committee. These projects saw her protesting alongside Coretta Scott King, setting up a shantytown for 3,000 of the nation’s poorest people on Washington D.C.’s National Mall, traveling to Haiti to work with the most disadvantaged children and, in 1975, leading the Canadian delegation to Mexico City for the first UN World Conference on Women.

The MATCH Fund is Suzanne’s gift to Canadian women. Before her death, she said, “I have always contended that Canadians have a role to play in supporting women to bring about amazing change in their communities.” So, from her kitchen table, she built this international Canadian women’s fund that, today, is still thriving thanks to her early leadership. She always meant for this work to live longer than she ever would.

Had Suzanne lived just a month more, she would have seen our completed nomination for her to receive the Order of Canada this year. While this award would have recognized the enormous contributions of a women who changed lives from behind the scenes, we know that–even in her death–Suzanne did not want to be a legend (even though she was).

Instead, she wanted the international contributions of Canadian women to be legendary.

Especially now–especially today–Suzanne would tell us to work harder than ever. She’d tell us to march for justice. To go outside of our comfort zone to do what is right. To raise hell for equality. To support each other.

Suzanne Johnson Harvor was a grandmother to us all. We mourn her death. And we will fiercely carry on her legacy.

Suzanne’s obituary can be found here.