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Monday, December 5, 2022
Ex-councillor, agriculture advocate, Austin Kirkby was ‘a force’ for NOTL
Austin Kirkby with her daughters Susan, Katie and Becky. Supplied

Former town councillor Austin Kirkby was a tireless advocate for Niagara’s agriculture community and a hard-working farmer and public servant.

Kirkby died of cancer Monday at the age of 79.

The fierce and fiery former Niagara-on-the-Lake farmer is survived by three daughters, her husband, six grandchildren and three great-granddaughters.

“She was a force,” said Kirkby’s 54-year-old daughter Katie Overstrom.

She remembers how busy her mother was, describing a woman who worked on the farm all day and worked at town council all night.

Yet she always had time to watch her kids participate in extracurriculars.

”She was the mom that showed up for every sporting event,” recalled her daughter Becky Arnold, 43.

Austin and John Kirkby met in high school, fell in love and married in 1963.

They worked on their farm together until eventually moving into a small condo after Austin was diagnosed with cancer in 2019.

John Kirkby said there were hard times, but he’s “not ashamed to say how much I did love her.”

When Austin was in her 50s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

True to her fighting spirit, Kirkby survived that scare.

It came back in an unexpected way, though.

“She, out of the blue, broke her collarbone and the diagnosis was cancer,” Overstrom said.

It was a shock to the family to go in for a broken collarbone and come out with cancer.

Kirkby was as fearless in the face of cancer as she was in the face of council.

“There was no political baloney when she talked. It was all from the heart,” her husband said.

John Kirkby remembers his wife was the type of person to know “the answers before she asked her question.”

Coun. Gary Burroughs remembers something similar, describing her as one who “really did her homework.”

She joined council in 1991, acting as chair of the agricultural committee for much of her time on council. In 2006, she stepped down.

Burroughs recalled how he once went to Kirkby’s home and saw a massive kitchen absolutely covered with papers as she prepared for council.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she’s really going to miss the former councillor.

Kirkby was on council before Disero got into NOTL politics, but the lord mayor said she learned a lot from her.

“She knew every piece of farmland and Niagara-on-the-Lake inside and out,” Disero said.

“She really was a mentor for me in terms of agriculture in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” she added.