Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mary (Foley) Doyle, dead at 88

I thought I would try something new on this blog. After realizing how very few female role models I have, I became convinced that it's only because I'm unaware of the many successful women out there. In an effort to learn more about them, I'll be profiling female economists and business women, maybe once or twice a month, beginning today with Mary (Foley) Doyle.

My group of friends are some of the most magnificent people in the world (I just know it), but when I came across the obituary of Mary (Foley) Doyle, I wished I could have added her to my circle of friends. I want to share this piece, written by her children, which ran in The Globe and Mail last week. She seems like a spectacular woman (a chairwoman in 1956!), and this glimpse into her life is truly inspiring.

Mary (Foley) Doyle
Mother, businesswoman. Born July 5, 1917 in Point Mall, Placentia Bay, Nfld. Died May 23 in St. John's, of heart failure, aged 88. Mary Foley was raised in Corner Brook, far from her parents' native Placentia Bay. Work had lured them west. Her mother was a determined redhead whose genius was to feed and clothe seven daughters and a son on a mill-worker's wage.
Mary graduated from St. Henry's, narrowly missed a university scholarship, and took “commercial.” She soon became a private secretary. One day, offered the rare opportunity to make a long-distance call, she phoned a Water Street merchant in St. John's, replying to an ad. Impressed, he hired her.
Three years later, Mary married Gerald Doyle. He was a widower, 25 years older than she, and living on an eight-acre estate. She stepped into a household with maids, a cook and a gardener — and five young motherless boys. Dinner parties, New York business trips, cruises and summers sailing around Newfoundland: She'd been swept into a world of glamour, travel, and love. When he died in 1956, he left a bewildered 39-year-old with three more small children in the mix. She was thrown immediately into a man's world as “chairman” of her husband's manufacturer's agency, in charge of 50 employees.
Mary Doyle never felt at home with St. John's “society.” She sought company, and found it in the Redemptorist priests: intelligent, urbane men who posed no threat to her widowhood. The mother of our childhood was stunning, decisive, and slightly scary. She wore a sealskin jacket, drove a Land Rover and had two German Shepherds. If a man hesitated when approaching her, she'd exclaim: A man who's afraid of dogs! She was fearless, bought and sold property without advice, and travelled without reservations, including a three-month European tour with kids. Later, she drove around Morocco in an Austin Mini. Fearless, yet. . . she once opened the front door, and ordered a passing teenager to come in and catch a mouse. At 53, her family raised, Mary walked into a classroom of 17-year-olds and began university. She took notes in shorthand, asked smart questions, and wrote A papers. At 57, she crossed the stage to collect a history degree. The photo records a proud and defiant woman.
Mary was anti-Confederate. Returning Canadian? she'd be asked at a border. I carry a Canadian passport. Canadian citizen? I was born in Point Mall. Eventually, a frustrated guard would let her pass. Her rage against Canada dates from 1939 when an immigration officer on a Halifax dock looked down at her seven-year-old Down Syndrome sister. He removed the child to a holding cell and next day handed her back: Entry Denied.
Mary was a fighter. Stacks of yellow paper document responses to injustice. In 1969 she fumed in a church pew on Fogo Island while a priest “harangued his own good people.” She wrote him about what he had “flung with vituperation” to “a captive audience who could not speak back.” She copied the bishop.
Her independence strengthened as she aged. At 77 she was tough enough to cope with the blow of losing a leg. For months her car sat idle in the driveway; she couldn't relinquish this symbol of mobility. In time, she installed a lift which she rode to a waiting wheelchair downstairs. She'd open the garage door remotely and take a cab to the bank. She and her dog carried on through the Newfoundland winters for five years. She moved in briefly with her youngest son then, with courage and insight, made the inevitable move to a home.
She was a rebel, and fires of defiance continued to burn even as her world grew smaller. She hung a bold sign on the door: No admittance after 11:00 p.m.

John, Bill and Marjorie are Mary's children.

1 comment:

Lil Hippo said...

what a woman!
Thank you so much for all that information. I just by chance stumbled apon your blog. I an writing a biography on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and couldn't find any information on his mother! You really saved me. Thank You!

~a friend from afar :D