A legacy of love: Maryanne Pope turns tragedy into advocacy through JPMF
Health & Safety Community Leader Award John Petropoulos Memorial Fund JPMF OHS Honours
Community Leader Award
Gold: Maryanne Pope, John Petropoulos Memorial Fund
Silver: Trina Hayden, Norcat
Silver: Tanya Kowalenko, FortisBC
On Sept. 29, 2000, Const. John Petropoulos of the Calgary Police Service was called to investigate a break-and-enter at a warehouse.
While on the mezzanine level, the four-year-veteran stepped onto what he believed was a study floor — but it was a false ceiling. He fell nine feet into the lunchroom below, landing on a chair and striking his head.
Petropoulos was 32. His wife, Maryanne Pope, was also 32. They had been together for 12 years, and married for four.
“I was beyond devastated, I suppose just shattered,” said Pope. “You know, we were just like a normal couple one day and then I’m holding his hand in the ICU as he dies of a brain injury.”
She didn’t know what to do next, and his colleagues were at a loss. Shortly after, one of his police recruit classmates reached out to Pope with an idea. They were going to create a pen, with his regimental number, and sell them to police officers, family and friends to raise money.
“They raised about $10,000. And they said, ‘When you’re in some sort of semblance of shape emotionally and mentally, and you feel like you can handle this, let’s get together and meet and we’ll decide what to do with the money,’” she said.
That led to the launch of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF). This year, Pope was named winner of the 2023 Community Leader Award as part of OHS Honours for her incredible work and that of the foundation in his name.
Originally, JPMF focused on the question: “How safe is your workplace for emergency responders?” With increasing activities in construction sites and other high-risk areas, the foundation initially aimed to address safety issues faced by paramedics, firefighters, and police officers. However, workplace safety statistics prompted the organization to broaden its scope.
“We wanted to raise public education and teach the public how to think about workplace safety from the perspective of first responders who might be in their premise and not familiar with the surroundings,” said Pope.
She said it’s “incredible” to see the light bulb go off when someone hears what happened to her husband and other first responders.
“They go, ‘Oh, I never thought about workplace safety from that perspective,” said Pope. “From someone who will be in my building and not be aware of the dangers that we know are there.”
This idea grew over the years, leading to public service announcements aired millions of times on television, a 10-minute educational video, and various safety campaigns. The organization later expanded its focus to include traffic safety, creating a campaign titled “Slow down. It’s no picnic out there.”
“We branched away from raising public awareness about workplaces in the sense of buildings, but traffic safety as well,” she said. “That campaign was really powerful and basically shows people that they need to slow down and move over when passing first responders, police, fire, EMS and tow truck drivers and give them room to work.”
The organization didn’t stop there. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it pivoted its focus. During this period, Pope looked at the grim statistic that from 2000 to 2020, more than 20,000 Canadians had died due to workplace-related causes. This led to the creation of the “Casket Campaign,” a visual representation of the scale of these tragedies.
“It’s a very powerful image, and horribly named for a very good reason,” said Pope. “It shows how high a pile of 20,000 caskets go — and it’s as high as airplanes fly.
That’s completely unacceptable that we’re losing that many workers, in my humble opinion, because I know what it’s like to lose just one.”
Asked about what she’s most proud of, Pope emphasized the community that has developed around this cause: “I think I’m most proud of the fact that this memorial fund has grown out of such horrible personal tragedy, and yet I think it’s helped so many individuals.”
She also recounted feedback from various sectors who made safety changes after attending their presentations. Among them were housekeepers at a hotel who cleared clutter to make spaces safer, and members of a Manufacturers Association who thanked the fund for offering a different perspective on workplace safety.
As for the quantifiable impact of her work, Pope reflects on the philosophy of Cliff O’Brien, chair of the Memorial Fund. While she will never know if her work has saved a single life, there is one definitive fact: “If we didn’t do anything, we wouldn’t have prevented a single death.”
She expressed gratitude to the judges for the award, noting the challenges often faced by smaller organizations in spreading the message.
“We’ve got longevity behind us. We keep going and going,” she said. “But the sheer numbers of people that need to be reached is really hard to do.”
Pope urged professionals to go to the website — JPMF.ca — to learn more about John’s story and the resources available to Canadians.
“They can see those safety messages and take them to their own companies and their own schools,” she said. “It’s what it’s all about.”