Tuesday 20 January 2009

30 - Mona Winberg

When you think of a Toronto Sun with heart, you think of Mona Winberg, a woman with cerebral palsy who wrote to the tabloid in the 1980s advocating a column for the disabled.

Mike Burke-Gaffney, Sunday Sun editor at the time, hired Mona to write a weekly Disability Today column, which she did, with considerable effort, from 1986 to 1999.

Along the way, Mona, who died Monday at North York General Hospital at 76, earned an Order of Canada, the respect of readers, the admiration of the disabled and high praise from politicians and civic leaders.

When Mona was born in Toronto in 1932, her mother was told she would never walk or talk. Her mother, Sarah, and Mona would have none of that and Mona's determination to overcome was her strength throughout her life.

Sadly, Mona died a few weeks before the release of Solitary Courage: Mona Winberg and the Triumph Over Disability, a book by J. Patrick Boyer.

The book is a tribute to Mona and the inspiration she gave countless disabled Canadians through her Sun columns, speaking engagements and community efforts.

Boyer was an MP chairing the parliamentary committee on the status of disabled persons when he first met Mona in the 1980s.

As his book promotion says: He "now tells Mona Winberg's story and, through her own writings from the Sunday Sun, brings this remarkable woman's hard-hitting messages and compassionate insights, her wisdom and experiences, to inspire a new readership."

Reporter Amy Chung says in today's Sun former Toronto mayor David Crombie called her a "tough little fighter."

And Lincoln Alexander, former lieutenant-governor, called her "one tough bird" in advocating for the rights of the disabled.

How tough and how determined? Sid Troister, a nephew, told the Sun yesterday it would take Mona 16 hours to write one column. That is commitment trumping a physical disability.

Amy Chung's obit for Mona:

Mona Winberg wasn't afraid of anyone.

Despite her small frame and difficulty in speech and mobility from severe cerebral palsy, the long-time Sun columnist was remembered as someone who took many high-ranking politicians to task.

Winberg, the Sunday Sun's Disability Today columnist from 1986 to 1999, passed away yesterday at North York General Hospital after complications from pneumonia. She was 76.

"Mona's accomplishments as a journalist and her many honours brought the Sun great recognition," said managing editor Mike Burke-Gaffney, who was Sunday editor when he hired Winberg after she wrote the Sun advocating for a disability columnist.

"She loved to introduce herself to an audience saying, 'If you were expecting a SUNshine Girl, I hope you are not too disappointed.' Her eyes would sparkle as she watched their reaction. Mona defined what inner beauty is all about," Burke-Gaffney said.

Her work drew many honours - including the 'King' Clancy and Fred Gardiner awards and the Order of Canada. Former mayor David Crombie, who inducted Winberg to the Terry Fox Hall of Fame in 1995, remembers her as a "tough little fighter" for accessibility reforms.

Former lieutenant-governor Lincoln Alexander said she "encouraged people to do what they can with what they have. She looked so vulnerable, but she was one tough bird."

Accomplishments did not come easily.

"To write one column would take her 16 hours," nephew Sid Troister said.

Yes, Mona was a "tough little fighter" and for a good 13 years, she was in the Sunday Sun's corner with a faithful following.

If you have memories of Mona to share, please e-mail TSF.

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