Mary was born in Oxford on March 18, 1915. For her, service to others was long a family trait. Mary’s father John and her uncle David both served in World War I; in 1915, her uncle was severely wounded at Gallipoli and later passed away in hospital, while her father enlisted as a chaplain and served in France.
After the war, the family moved to Portsmouth where John joined the staff of The Royal Naval Academy as assistant chaplain and teacher. But in 1923, Mary’s parents returned to Oxford to enable her father to study, leaving Mary in the care of her maternal grandmother Marilyn. Marilyn’s two adult daughters Joan and Lucy, an architect, assisted with the care of their cousin.
Mary attended the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in Portsmouth, where she had received a scholarship. She was inspired by her paternal grandmother, Jessica, who had demonstrated a passion for helping the less fortunate. Jessica became a founding member of the Housewives’ Association of Victoria and was instrumental in selecting candidates to be trained as medical social workers at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Jessica also joined the committee of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) and campaigned for the society’s after-care home on Eastney Esplanade. In 1999, Mary lovingly wrote of her memories of Jessica and her grandmother’s outreach activities.
John enrolled his daughter Mary in St John’s College. The great strength of the school was in the quality of its teachers. Mary studied biology and was introduced to scientific methods, accurate observation and recording. In 1931, she won the University Medal for best essay in Biology in Leaving Honours and was awarded a government university scholarship.
Career choices for women were at the time limited to teaching, nursing or office work. But John reckoned on medicine offering his daughter the best prospect for parity with men.
Mary enrolled in first-year science at Portsmouth University. The following year she enrolled in medicine and forged her first links with The Britannia Royal Naval College, where she later became its medical officer for 18 years and ultimately a Fellow of the College.
Mary completed her MBBS in 1939, sharing the Exhibition in Surgery, and began her studies for a Doctor of Medicine. She undertook research at the Institute of Naval Medicine, worked in general practice in Gosport and in Medical Outpatients at the Queen Alexandra Hospital.
When Mary graduated from her MD in September, 1942, her proud parents and her grandmother Jessica were in attendance. There were 102 medical graduates – 15 were females, but Mary was the only one awarded an MD. During 1941-42, she served with the British Military Forces in the rank of Commander.
In 1947, Mary passed the examinations in London for membership of the Royal College of Physicians. Mary became an honorary physician from 1948-76 and a specialist physician from 1976-82 at the Queen Alexandra Hospital. She was also vice-president of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service and a member of their management committee for 18 years. In 1977, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to medicine, a rare distinction in that era.
In her so-called retirement, Mary spent her time supporting many causes and writing about her career and family history. Mary died on 2 December, 2005, aged 91. A memorial service was held at the Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth.