MARY-WYNNE ASHFORD, Retired Physician and Past President of IPPNW

Mary-Wynne Ashford Profile

“There were things to be done in disarmament that were clear to me. Whether or not I could really make a difference, leaving them undone was a resignation to despair. At the very least, the individual can challenge the silence of assumed consensus. By breaking the silence, by refusing to collude with evil and insanity, one resists the darkness.”

Mary-Wynne Ashford feels that the world is becoming averse to war, and during much of the past three decades she has been on the road, giving speech after speech to highlight the many ways in which conflicts are increasingly resolved without violence.  Since the mid-1980s her primary focus has been the overwhelming threat of nuclear weapons, and the imperative to speed the process of global disarmament.  Most people don’t think about the nuclear arsenals still held by the US, Russia, and assorted renegade states, however Mary-Wynne, individually and via a number of international organizations, has fought hard against this trend.  She has also worked tirelessly to uphold the role of doctors and women in the realisation of peace.

Mary-Wynne grew up in Edmonton Canada and attended University of Alberta in the late 1950s, initially teaching high school chemistry and raising three children.  At age 38 Mary-Wynne entered University of Calgary to receive her medical degree in 1981, working for over a decade as a family doctor who specialised in palliative care.  “As a doctor I loved delivering children; it was terrifying and exciting. You have to concentrate and look terribly relaxed. Seeing patients die, on the other hand, reinforced the realisation of what is important in life. They always talked about what was good and valuable, about family.”

Several years into a successful career as a physician, in 1984 Mary-Wynne became active in the nuclear disarmament movement upon hearing the Australian doctor Helen Caldicott.  Caldicott’s call to action left Mary-Wynne sleepless and inspired to become deeply involved with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). That same year, IPPNW was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education, and in 1985 the organization received the highest honors:  the Nobel Peace Prize.

Intensifying her commitment to the cause, Mary-Wynne began a pattern of non-stop speaking around the world, including a 1987 keynote speech to Gorbachev’s Forum for a Nuclear Free World for the Survival of Mankind, in Moscow.  In 1988 she was sent as a “Nobel Emissary” to support French physicians in the nuclear disarmament movement, and chaired the World Congress of IPPNW in Montreal where she MC’d a peace concert featuring Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Also starting in 1988, for several years she served as President of the Canadian Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.  “When I started, nuclear weapons where the only thing that could wipe out human life in an afternoon. Today, environmental issues are as serious. I stick with the nuclear issues since they could solve many environmental problems and because that’s where my expertise is.”  In 1992 Mary-Wynne delved further into the roots of violence, graduating from Simon Fraser University with a Ph.D (1996) in the prevention of adolescent violence.  From 1998-2004 Mary-Wynne served for two terms as Co-President of IPPNW.  She summed up their stance in 2000 at the World Congress in Paris:  “”We are not a group of activists who happen to be doctors: we are doctors first, committed to easing suffering and death. We bring that commitment to the global stage in our attempt to prevent the ultimate suffering and death of nuclear war.”

In 2004 Mary-Wynne started documenting the multitude of creative and innovative conflict solutions that do not require shedding blood and killing innocent human beings.  “A friend, Guy Dauncey, contacted me with the idea of a book about “101 Solutions to Violence, Terror and War” and asked whether I was interested in contributing to his series of solution books. I was, and I started gathering stories in addition to the maybe 50 initiatives that I already knew about.”  Soon she was consumed by the project and her ever-growing drive to spread the message of non-violence that she ceased her medical practice.  “I retired from medicine because I wanted to have more time for the promotion of peace and for my grandchildren. From these things I will never retire.”  Enough Blood Shed was published 2006 and co-authored with Dauncey, who is President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association and founder of the Solutions Project.  “There is an incredible number of stories around nonviolent interventions to conflicts. There are many more than I can portrait in the book and they never appear in the news.”  The book was translated into Japanese (2007) and Korean (2010).  In 2012 Mary-Wynne was keynote speaker at a Korean conference based on her book.

Today she remains active in promoting peace in Canada and internationally, continuing to speak out against violence and war.  Perhaps a sign of humility, on Mary-Wynne’s LinkedIn profile there is no mention of IPPNW or evidence of her globetrotting crusades and tireless speeches − she is simply a “retired physician”, and author.  As of 2012, on Facebook she shares and comments on a variety of resources.  One of her personal interests is singing, and the power and importance of music in effecting change.  “At the end of my life I want to be able to say that I lived a life that had a meaning. And here the single most important thing is the service to others. Just aiming for material wealth leaves people empty and depressed; they cannot find meaning in life.”

Additional Quotes

“Today, we need to re-sensitize and re-educate young people about the consequences of nuclear weapons; young people don’t know about them anymore. Since 1991 people thought it was over, but it is not and so we teach again.”

“Within the last 30 years there were 80% fewer major wars, fewer human rights violations and 60 dictators have been tumbled nonviolently. The world has become war averse. I always thought that we as a world were at the beginning of a wave of social change away from war, but in fact, we are already in the middle of it.”

“The planetary crises raise existential and spiritual questions we are usually able to avoid in our affluent society. I find that the question of how to face hopelessness is one I cannot answer with consistency and intellectual rigor. … I cherish the small signs that people are taking action to promote change, and when I see them, I feel a tiny surge of optimism that I am unwilling to repress.”

More about IPPNW


Country: Canada

Type of Education: University of Alberta, B.Sc., 1960 and B.Ed., 1961; University of Calgary, MD, 1981; Simon Fraser University, Ph.D., 1997 (dissertation on prevention of adolescent violence)

Awards: Gandhi Award, Simon Fraser University and Thakore Foundation; Governor General of Canada’s Medal; YWCA Women of Distinction Award (Human Rights); YMCA Peace Medallion; Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility Distinguished Physician Award; University of Alberta Mamie Shaw Simpson Trophy for the Outstanding Woman Student on Campus

Foundation Affiliation: n/a

Pathway to Impact: Path of Concern

Impact Area/s:  Security – Personal safety, security from disasters

Organisation Type:

Social Media

Other Media

TEDxStandley Park, March 2013 for the theme, Think the Unthinkable. Mary asks: “Can you think of a world without war?”

Book, Enough Blood Shed:

Staying the Course:

A disarming doctor:


About the author Charles Blass

Charles is a media advisor with experience as a copy writer, journalist, broadcaster and content developer. Charles founded Lovevolv Inc, a non-profit arts and education company, and co-founded the LiveWired music network. Current activities include editing digital media and business writings, teaching English, mind-mapping, and producing two Zurich-based radio programs. See

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Comment


— required *

— required *