We mourn the loss of Mary Evelyn Porter

Scholar, educator, researcher, author, and emancipation advocate Mary Evelyn Porter died peacefully on June 3rd, 2022, surrounded by immediate family

Mary Evelyn Porter giving a lecture on a speaker's podium
Mary Evelyn Porter (Photo: Chad Evans Wyatt)

Ms Porter was born in Paradise, Nova Scotia, Canada. She became singularly interested in the rights of the Roma during her teenage years, even corresponding with significant personages. She went, after completing her initial university years, to Trinidad as a teacher, and from there to study for her doctorate of the University of Texas, and on to California. Mary Evelyn Porter lived for some time with a Romanichal family in California, from whom she learned a great deal more about the Roma. She then went undercover for Amnesty International, gathering names and addresses of Argentine citizens who had suffered and were “disappeared” at the hands of its authoritarian dictatorship. This very dangerous work was partly supported by the US government; the risk was entirely hers. She was subsequently elected to the Board of Directors of Amnesty International, Canada. Years following were spent as a teacher for advanced learners.

Porter made many trips to Europe, where she became even more imbedded with the Roma, working for a time with the Roma Mentor program in Hungary and other countries. Her circle of friends and admirers grew impressively extensive. One of those was Erika Varga, who introduced her to the photographer Chad Evans Wyatt, then 12 years into his RomaRising project. Porter and Wyatt decided to combine talents, she introducing him to many of her extensive contacts in Europe, he photographing them. Ms Porter wrote biographical narratives in the voice of each subject, foreshadowing the call among Roma and Sinti scholars for the voice of the Roma itself to be heard in its own oral history. Porter and Wyatt had planned to finish the project in 2022 with 100 additional portraits, but circumstance intervened, travel became impossible. She turned her powerful intellect to authoring three books, two during the pandemic.

Mary Evelyn Porter was beloved literally by hundreds, especially former students, and Roma friends in countless locations. Condolences arrived from all over the world, most commonly repeating over and over that such a brilliant mind was also unusually compassionate. Her ashes will return to her home in Nova Scotia. She is survived by son Jonathan Fantini Porter and brother John Porter.