Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Mary Thwaites - ‘The world’s greatest networker’ moves on

Published:Friday | March 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM

MARY PLANT became Mary Thwaites in 1963, and so instantly acquired a large and growing clan of relatives which she worked hard to handle, to

welcome, and to add to.

And she brought with her own clan - Daddy Herbert Plant and brother David, various and assorted cousins including Frasers and Plants, and an ever-growing string of friends.

Everywhere that Mary went or spent time, she collected friends. So she had friends that she worked with at Air Canada, and in Chicago, and she had friends she met at conferences on boats, at parties, and on holiday. She had fast friends from church; and good friends at the market, at the roadside stall, and grocery store. She had friends that she served with and gave time to, including the women who she volunteered with and those she looked after at the Verley home. She had friends among family members, and made friends with their friends. She was the most extraordinary friend to many.

Her friends were friends for each other. I stayed in Scotland for days with Bernard and Sheila, people I had never met, but who were friends of Mary and willing to accommodate a stranger because Mary asked them. Richard and I ate dim sum in San Francisco with Neville and Fay, friends of Mary, who looked after us because of our shared connections. She was the world's greatest networker before we had even known what that was.

That's not to say that everybody loved her, Mary's tongue could be sharp and her anger deep, particularly for those she felt had done wrong by her family or friends, but there were more that loved her than the other kind.

All her friends loved her, limed, laughed, drank with her, and knew that they could tell her anything and it would be safe.

These friends knew that she would tell you what she really thought, but she wouldn't make you feel stupid. She might cuss you out, but if she loved you, you were her love and could count on her for support and counsel.

Mary was a magnificent entertainer of all her friends, and her home. Whether at Violet, or Richings Avenue or Outlook or, for the last 30-plus years, at Temple Mead, was always full of various and assorted numbers of these friends - sometimes to the annoyance or despair of Peter.

The friends were part of the reason Mary decided she would stay in Jamaica even after a man held a knife to her throat and hijacked her car. She had to save herself by turning into the driveway of friends screaming for support. When it happened, she said that "in Jamaica, she would always be able to find a friend to look for help from" and so the family stayed in Jamaica in the bad years of the '70s when so many left.

But Mary was much more than simply a friend to many. Mary was also Peter's love. The woman he proposed to after knowing her for only six weeks. The woman that he loved jealously for 50 years. The woman that he still speaks about seeing for the first time in white shorts at the yacht club with the most amazing, beautiful, long legs. She was really beautiful in face and body. Mary was the woman that he suffered with when they lost so many babies, and who suffered with him through any and every adversity. The woman who quarrelled with him, challenged him, drank with him, and who flirted with him and his friends. The woman who made his home a haven and his life complete. And even when she took to leaving, physically or mentally, she was Peter's love. And that is a very short and sweet description of how they loved each other.

And Mary was also a mother. Eventually, after tragic losses, came her beloved Nancy - born the same day as sister/cousin Barbara - and a short time later, Peter John Junior. That they were the lights of her life is beyond dispute. She would do anything for them as was proven time and time again. That they loved her breathlessly is still true. It was in some senses a real gift to her that she lost her Peter John in the days of her twilight, when the pain (we hope) was less real, less acute. That is really a short and sharp description of her relationship with her children.

Mary was also Aunty Mary - much more than aunt normally implies she was for literally dozens of nieces and nephews. With time, Aunty Mary served as mother and grandmother for assorted nieces, nephews and grand-nieces and nephews. The bonds that she forged across generations is as real for them, as special as she was.

Her children gave her six extra-special grandchildren to add to her stock of loving life. Each of those grands remembers her with their own warm memories. Jason, who she always reminded was her first and largest grandchild won't forget that "you always did what you could to let me do what I wanted, and as long as I was having a good time, you were, too".

Alex remembers that "conversations didn't have to make much sense ... but we could talk forever about the parade of men in blue hats on the street and whoever you told me decided to visit while I was at school".

Justin won't forget family holidays and that "even when I shaved my head, you thought I was handsome (amazing), and loved me the way I was. You loved everyone, any way they were".

Chloe and Raquel and Peter John remember "her back scratches, the cure to almost any problem". They also remember, "A never-ending supply of Mentos in the car and only ever being allowed to take one at a time". And they know she loved "to watch them dancing in the living room". And all the grandchildren will never forget her, and they all picture her dancing.

- Eulogy by Dr Carolyn Gomes