Mary wanted an upbeat celebration of her life, without any crying or sadness, as she had been blessed with an incredibly wonderful and rich life. She often said it was the people in her life who’d made it so great.
It all began in Leeds in 1939 — Mary was always proud of being a Yorkshire lass, with three other siblings, Patrick, Christine and Bernard, and her loving parents, Annie and Thomas. It was a terrible blow when her younger brother and sister died later on. Her memories of Leeds were of a close community of friends and cousins, especially Margaret, Pauline and Tony, who used to meet every Sunday morning after mass at the Holy Family Church with around 15 people in the room, chatting for hours. Mary was often asked to read aloud at school due to her lovely voice and reading skills and was very proud of a scholarship she won at 11 to go to a private girls’ school.
HEALTH INCIDENT 1
Soon after the family moved to Australia in 1951, Mary’s life dramatically changed when her dress caught fire and she went up in flames. She had third-degree burns to 40% of her body, in an era when that meant certain death. This incident made the Stop Press section of the Daily News. She spent a year in Royal Perth Hospital Burns Unit recovering and learning how to walk again. During this time she had an out-of-body life-death experience on the operating table, which she described as “peaceful” and left her never being afraid of death.
Mary met Len when they worked at Dalgety Wool Stores and she was impressed that Len had especially learnt to dance so he could court her.
Mary was always proud of her marriage of 57 years to Len, particularly for being a great father, his support for her university study, and for being her full-time carer for the past 11 years — driving her to church, hospital visits and many social engagements. They faithfully renewed their wedding vows at Christ the King in 2012.
Mary was a great mother, raising their five children, and was very proud they all gained university degrees.
The family often went out on boats on weekends, including an authentic Chinese junk, had fun holidays in New Zealand, Preston Beach and Pemberton, which always included fishing. Mary loved seafood and nothing above the legal size went uneaten, cooked on a campfire on a beach or barbecue.
She was always ecstatic whenever there was a family wedding or birth of a grandchild, loved family gatherings and giving big hugs to her grandchildren.
Mary had a beautiful voice and would often sing at full throttle while stopped at traffic lights with the windows wound down, around the house, and in church where she was often a dedicated choir mistress.
She loved the Dockers, knitting scarves to distract her from their terrible form during their first horrible 8 years, and always sang the team song, joined by friend Pat and family, with gusto.
Work-wise, Mary’s first career was as an Avon lady, so she met everyone in the Hilton area as she pushed her pram and rang doorbells. While not keen on domestic tasks, Mary was enthusiastic about education and obtained three degrees, working as a librarian, and, at 57, as a teacher, locally and in the Pilbarra and Kalgoorlie.
She particularly enjoyed teaching juveniles at the Rangeview and Canning Vale remand centres, where the inmates often trusted her, and Mary was moved by their tragic life experiences.
Mary enjoyed volunteering, where she met many of her friends, most who have passed on, and one of her favourite traditions was going to Fremantle Monument to have breakfast at dawn with her friend Connie, eating cheese and dates with a Thermos of tea, reflecting on the past year and musing about the future.
Jaka Covich was another life-long friend and beloved godmother — both shared a deep faith and raised five children, travelled and enjoyed fun outings to the beach, discussing the ups and downs of family life over many cups of tea.
Another great friend was Pat Dunn, and together they did St John’s first aid at the Big Day Out, many music festivals, big sporting events and concerts. She was particularly proud that in her 60s she was attending more music raves than the average 20-something.
Mary did a lot of volunteering, including as a catechist at Hilton Primary, president of Hilton Primary P&C, president of the Hilton Red Cross branch, and a member of the Christ the King and South Fremantle School boards, and Catholic Social Justice Committee.
HEALTH INCIDENT 2
In 2006, Mary realised she needed to contact the Perth Burns Unit again due to problems with her scars opening up. Due to extreme PTSD, the stress of contacting the Burns Unit caused a physical breakdown where she was near death with internal bleeding. She needed a heart-lung transplant to return to a normal life but she was too old to receive donated organs. She needed implants in her eyes, oxygen for her arteries and dialysis for her kidneys.
She said in her mental health advocacy speeches that she found the mental challenges more difficult to face than the physical ones.
It would have been easy to surrender to self pity, but with the help of psychologists, her family and friends, Mary set small, achievable goals.
A major turning point was when she joined consumer groups advocating the mental health rights of psychiatric patients, and spoke at national conferences advocating the rights of patients with disabilities and mental health problems.
These included membership of Fremantle Hospital’s Community Advisory Council; Fremantle Hospital’s Consumer Advisory Group for mental health; the South Metropolitan Mental Health Advisory Team; and Royal Perth Hospital’s Dept of Psychiatry Consumer Advisory Group.
Whenever she ended up in ICU, Mary would always order off-the-menu, asking the canteen for chilli mussels, and insisting the family smuggle in hot fish and chips, much to the nurse’s consternation.
After Len moved to Braemar in March, Mary was on her own with little BB, a brave terrier who saw off any intruders. She kept busy and loved being taken to movies and plays, always brandishing her carer’s companion card, a “two-for-the-price-of-one” deal.
THANKS TO HELPERS
During Mary’s long 11 years of severe ill health, she would sew numerous gifts to show her appreciation to her many helpers. We’d like to sincerely thank everyone who assisted her during this very difficult time. It wasn’t always easy and a lot of patience was required.
As her parting wish, Mary said she wants us to be happy and to appreciate the world as much as she did, always looking for the silver lining, the bright and the beautiful, so, like her, our hearts will be inspired to spontaneously break out in song for the simple and wonderful joys in life.
Mum sang this song on her deathbed. It’s a humorous traditional Yorkshire song about dying for not wearing a hat and being eaten by worms and then ducks eat the worms and people eat the ducks.
She happily received the last rites and clutched her mother’s rosary beads in her final moments.
WARD (Mary): Mary passed away at 78, content with having lived a wonderful life.
Loved wife of Len, partner in crime and happily married for 57 years. Loving mother of Cotton, John, Carolyne, Raymond and Rebecca, and mother-in-law of Donna, Ali and Emily. Cherished grandmother of Matthew, Ryan, Hannah, Ivy and Zara.
She will be always be remembered for her beautiful singing voice, optimism, inexhaustible socialising, community work and deep faith.
We will miss her great wisdom and advice gleaned from the pages of Shakespeare and Jane Austen. The love you had for Len and your family was unconditional and we will miss your big hugs.
Heaven has a new choir mistress!