Delegate Profile: Mary Samaroo

June 14, 2024

An 1199er for three decades charts her path to discovering that the key to leading is being able to listen to others.

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“I never liked politics, it was not what I wanted to be a part of in any form or fashion, but that changed with Obama,” says Mary Samaroo, LPN at Queens Nassau Nursing Home and 1199 Delegate for the past five years. “That year Obama was running, I don’t know what got into me, but I was working in OPWDD [Office for People With Developmental Disabilities] and knew I had to spread the word. I told them, ‘You have to vote.’ I got all my colleagues to vote and I gave [political] donations for the first time.”

Samaroo’s journey to become a Union Delegate had a similar trajectory. “I never thought I’d want to be a delegate or want to do it,” Samaroo says. “But my organizer saw something in me, and saw I was always helping in the background. She would say, ‘You would be a good delegate,’ but I would turn her down. It wasn’t until I came into work one day and heard that there was an election, and all the staff voted for me,” Samaroo laughs. “I guess that was that.”

Born and raised in Guyana as one of nine siblings, Samaroo quickly learned how to negotiate challenges and to care for others. “I have a family that beats me up because I’m one of the younger siblings,” Samaroo chuckles. “I had to learn how to choose my battles. With that many siblings, you’re gonna fight for or about something, but have to remember that when you wake up tomorrow, they’re still your family.” Samaroo knew at a young age she would be in healthcare. “My mom would say that I always wanted to be a nurse. Like, at five-years-old, I would tell her I would become a nurse.”

While at home, Samaroo also helped to take care of her younger brother, as well as a younger sister with special needs.

She moved to the United States when she was 26 years-old. Samaroo started working as an LPN, which she’s now been doing for more than 20 years. She’s been with 1199 for over 30 years. Through her work as a delegate and leader, Samaroo has had opportunities to advocate for others, including lobbying in Albany during New York State’s recent budget fight; going door-to-door canvassing in Pennsylvania for Senator John Fetterman; and even having the opportunity to meet and introduce President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. “It was on my birthday. I spent the day in Philadelphia because Biden and Harris were opening their campaign [for re-election] that day, and I spoke about my experiences, and the importance of investing in quality care,” she says. Her speech was recorded, and when she showed it to her mom, it was quite a shock. “My mom said, ‘You [say] you don’t want to be a politician— but you sound like one!”

Over the years, Samaroo has learned that the key to leading is being able to listen to others. “Since becoming a delegate, I have learned to deal with people of all walks of life; doesn’t matter who they are and if you like them or not; you deal with people how you’d want someone to deal with you,” she says. Being a leader is also an opportunity to teach, especially with an eye towards the future. “It’s one thing to give you a fish, but I’ve also got to teach you how to fish. I tell people I’m not going to be here forever; I try to teach or guide people so they can make the best choices for themselves. It’s about what we’re leaving for the younger generation. If we’re not leading by example, they are going to think we’re just talking—and not walking out what we say.”

Samaroo’s motivation to keep doing the work comes from both her passion about caregiving and her faith. “I have a passion about trying to help others not looking for anything in return,” she says. “It’s like that part in the Bible— that we are here to serve and not be served, like Jesus, [having] the life of a servant. I’m here because of those who said a prayer before me, and now here I am working and moving it to the next generation.”

Samaroo has a lot of hope for future generations and wants to support them. “I try my best to help others get into politics—‘One soul at a time,’ is what we say in church,” she laughs. “I’ve learned that I won’t get everybody involved, but I aim for one person at a time, and I’m trying to work with the younger generation. I see a lot of potential in them; I see in them things they haven’t seen in themselves.

I always want to be an example that others can strive for, and know that you can do anything you set your mind to do. Look at me now! There is nobody in heaven that could have thought I would go on a campaign or help in politics—I hated my high school Political Science class—but now, here I am! Someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and now I just try to do the best I can for everybody.”

Correction: In the last edition of the 1199 Magazine, the name of the retired member profiled on p. 21 was incorrectly spelled. It should have read: Evette Weeks.