The concluding part of my recent interview at Flemington Care Home with Mary Owens, aged 99. In this part we explore her interesting, latter years.
Mary started her working life with no money. Her qualification allowed her to teach in High School but there were no local vacancies so she became a primary teacher and incredibly liked the Motherwell school, ‘Our Lady of Good Aid’ so much, she stayed for 40 years! Mary proudly added, “It was a good Catholic school and a lot of people wanted to get their children in. There was no trouble from the children, usually all well behaved.” When I asked what did she teach them, Mary smiled and replied, “everything and nothing!” She travelled to work on the bus from High Blantyre.
Around 1974, the Owens family moved back to the village, this time to Woodburn Avenue, close to the station. A lovely, large house, which was afforded by the successes of long term hard work and accomplished employment. Mary and her siblings bought a car which was shared by all the family. An incredible teaching career which lasted 4 decades certainly earned a worthy retirement. Even when retired, the family remained close and indeed, Mary looked after her mother Kitty, Rose and older brother James (Jim) in their final years.
Mary never married nor had children in her lifetime and with the reasons behind that not freely offered up, I didn’t pursue questioning. This was a woman, proudly content with her long life and the accomplishments she made.
She pursued a number of interests in retirement amongst them, continuing her love of reading, which had started with tales and fairy stories. She revisited her love of dancing and took up line dancing, which she did until she was 92! When asked why she stopped, I had anticipated a response about age, but was surprised when Mary replied, “I only stopped as the times coincided with Hairmyres Hospital visiting time to see my brother. I would take out sweets and my brother Jim would hear the rustling packets and simply open his mouth for the sweets, sometime not saying anything during the visit until ‘Cheerio’.” The visits and kindness offered being enough.
Seeing Mary was getting tired, it was time to wind up the interview. I commented that it wouldn’t be long until she was soon 100 years old and that she would be receiving a telegram from the Queen who is only a few years younger. (Sidenote: little did I know that Queen Elizabeth II would actually pass away that following week). Mary however, being mindful of her Catholic upbringing gave a quick, witty response saying, “When I receive it, I’ll tear it up into tiny little pieces and throw it out the window”, she said somewhat tongue in cheek and with a playful smile. I knew she was joking. She immediately added afterwards “I will say this though, the Queen has in fairness been good for this country and all the things she’s done. She’s only been let down by some of her family. She’s done well being in charge for so long.” I was left feeling Mary certainly respected all the Queen has done.
Before I left, I presented Mary with some flowers and a Blantyre book to read at her leisure. However, there was one parting question still on my mind, especially having gone through some health issues myself this year. What was the secret to long life? What advice would she give others.
“No drinking or smoking. Not caring about what to eat or drink, use dance as exercise and walk often,
not driving” was the response. Some profound advice and one for us all to think about!
Sadly, Mary didn’t get to receive that special telegram from the new King Charles III. Just a few weeks after this interview, on 27th October, Mary sadly passed away. It was unwelcome sad news and left me feeling privileged to have met her.
These brief excepts from Mary’s remarkable long life have been put into the new Blantyre Project book with proceeds to good causes, which is out on 19th November. I sincerely hope for generations to come, people will read this narrative and remember her. After all, this is a lasting legacy of a unique insight into times gone by. With thanks to Katrina Owens and her family for their kindness and especially to Mary who knew that this article, her article….. would eventually be published one day.
The funeral of Mary Owens will take place next week at St Joseph’s Church at 10am on Tuesday 15th November 22, then on to St Peter’s Cemetery (Dalbeth). My sympathies go out to all who knew her.
Rest in Peace Mary Owens 1923-2022