I first met Mary Williams in the Better Dress 5hoppe of Eaton’s Downtown store which dealt only with the carriage trade. Mary, who had already been with the company when I joined, another lady and myself struggled on less than twenty eight dollars a week. We were very competitive with each other in trying to earn sales commissions. There was an attempt to start up a union. Mary, despite her strong identification with the Ruling Classes, knew that employees were being disadvantaged by the fact that the depression was on and jobs were scarce. She paid heavily for her convictions. She was banished to the Knives & Utensils department where she was told she could “rot in hell.”
Instead of Hades, Mary decided to enroll at Weller Business College and her first job was at Toronto's prestigious Granite Club comprised of Toronto’s Finest Families. She lived at Foxbar Road where my sister and her husband also lived forging yet another connection with our family. Mary was also the first person to learn of the birth of my four children and became Godmother to my daughter Sara.
Mary always had a fascination with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and a special fondness for British Royalty. She could rhyme off who married whom, whose daughter ran off with the butler and her most passionate interest was pursuing what she described as “The nocturnal habits of the Gentry.” Mary could be found at the weddings and funerals of the high and mighty observing who sat with whom etc.
Her Notable Career
Mary ultimately secured a career with the province of Ontario where her researching zeal was known throughout all government departments. She could find reports, books and research papers that all others had failed to locate. She became the Librarian of Last Resort for hundreds of Civil Servants. Obtaining juicy bits of gossip would often be the quid pro quo for her services and she invariably was among the first to know what was going on in the corridors of power.
After Mary retired from the provincial government, she secured a librarian/research position with the accounting firm of KPMG. Now She was on Bay St where “her people” reigned supreme. Her six years with that firm were among the happiest of her life and she was greatly admired and appreciated by the most senior partners of the firm
Queen of All Contests
Throughout her life, Mary would enrol in every conceivable contest. When she visited me, she would scour every magazine, newspaper and even check my tin cans in search of another contest or coupon. She won a Toronto Star contest where she was able to “Match the Twins.” She won a contest to anywhere Air Canada would fly by identifying Provincial Premier Mitchell Hepburn in a baby bonnet. She asked me to be her travelling companion to Moscow at the height of the Red Regime. She did stipulate several conditions to which I had to agree. No polyester, no pant suits, separate rooms and no gum chewing. Her observations on people and places were always pithy, often biased and expressed without equivocation. One time, she won a Mink stole at a Hadassah Bazaar but had to borrow carfare to pick up her prize.
A Fearless Traveller
We spent three wonderful Xmas holidays in Portugal with dear friends Garrett and Jim where Mary would always be dressed in her favourite navy or black ensembles. She even refused to accept a lovely fur coat I had been able to obtain because it did not come in shades of blue or black. She travelled solo to the Arctic and the Far East, and also visited me when I lived in Vancouver. When we were about to board the Orient Express, Mary was told that she had exceeded the luggage limits and couldn’t take her large suitcase on board. She quickly borrowed a green plastic bag, threw her possessions in, hid the bag from sight and at the last minute hurried on board and escaped detection.
One time in Moscow, we stayed in an unusual hotel which we learned housed a number of ladies of ill repute. A large gentleman knocked on our door ostensibly seeking aid and comfort. When he realized that we were not in that line of business, he politely excused himself and went in search of more likely prospects. As her travelling companion, I was assigned the role of finding out was around the corner, a sort of advanced scout of what we might expect. Travelling with Mary was never dull and always filled with unexpected adventures and interesting people.
A Courageous Soul
Despite the absence of a true family life, Mary had an indomitable spirit and was determined to make her own way in the world and on her own terms. Although she sallied forth into the world all alone, she never complained about the difficulties she faced in life, was never envious of those who enjoyed many more advantages of education and wealth. She also was proud of the fact that the famous comedy team of Wayne & Shuster always borrowed her Latin notes when they all attended Harbord Collegiate in Toronto.
I am blessed to have such a true friend for life and was saddened by her eventual but necessary residence in a nursing home. She was truly one in a million.
Mary old dear, I’ll be joining you soon and I bet you’ve got it all checked out since you often defiantly declared “I know what’s what and that’s that!” That’s true of you!
Lots of Love