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Stoic Mary’s faith in homeopathy

28 November, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Mary Wylie – an extraordinary giving spirit

WHEN you think of the number of women who succumb so relatively quickly, and tragically, to breast cancer it was impossible not to be amazed at how my neighbour Mary Wylie fought off the disease for 10 years – entirely with homeopathic and herbal treatment.

She wouldn’t even take a paracetamol for instance, to dull the pain. Herbal medication – nothing else – was her sole remedy.

It is not often talked about openly as perhaps it should be but we know how women, once diag­nosed with breast cancer, even in these times of advanced surgery, targeted chemotherapy and treat­ment, often give way to the disease within a short time.

But Mary – tough but warm-hearted, gripped with an unbelievably stubborn belief in the powers of homeopathic treatment – refused any form of conventional treatment. Hospital inter­vention of any kind was taboo. Sheer will­power, it seems, drove her on.

Not only that but she kept up a lifestyle as if there was nothing wrong with her – she would drive her car to the supermarket, hold dinner parties for friends in her first-floor flat in Regent’s Park Road, Primrose Hill, and see as many plays as possible in the West End. Even in the last few weeks of her life she insisted on going about as normal as possible.

Among her great loves was the theatre. When she came down to London from the family home in Edinburgh in the late 1940s she trained to be an actress at the Old Vic school. Mary was one of about 10 successful applicants to win a place out of the 400 who applied for the school.

And as the years disappeared I could only admire the courage of this remarkable woman who was such a familiar face in Primrose Hill.

She had every hallmark of a well brought up, middle-class woman but this was misleading. Her parents were working class – her father a minor civil servant, her mother a seamstress for the Co-op in Edinburgh.

It was from her parents – who knew one of the great founders of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, in the early part of the last century – that Mary drew her socialist beliefs with an undying loyalty to the Co-op movement.

Ardent socialists, her parents made sure Mary and her two brothers attended the local Socialist Sunday School and helped the local Labour Party. From her parents, too, came a belief in the power of homeopathic medicine.

When Mary was young and the family moved into a new bungalow in Edinburgh it, naturally, had to be named the “Casa Rosa” or the Red House.

After Mary had trained as an actress she found parts in such TV series as Emergency Ward 10, and Doctor Finlay’s Casebook as well as performing at the Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre.

She made many friends in the theatre world especially with the playwright Arnold Wesker and gave him the idea of converting what was the engine shed of the Round­house into a theatre.

Later she taught English as a foreign language and in her travels visited Sylvia Pankhurst of the famous suffragette family in Ethiopia where she met Emperor Haile Salasie – and couldn’t help telling him, in true egalitarian spirit, and much to his annoyance, that he was a dictator.

He gave her an icy look.

But Mary’s political beliefs were unshakable.A member of the Labour Party for more than 60 years, she was an active member in her local branch in Primrose Hill – and an unwavering sup­porter of Jeremy Corbyn.

Always well dressed – she often made her own clothes – she would cut a flamboyant figure at party meetings where she never hesitated to challenge the local leadership if she thought they were stray­ing from the rightful path.

But what made her a memorable figure wasn’t simply the courage with which she confronted her breast cancer, and her extraordinary determina­tion and stoicism, but also her untrammelled generosity to friends and acquaintances. If someone needed help and advice she was the first to offer it. She had an extraordin­ary giving spirit. It was not uncommon for her to leave carrier bags full of food and gifts at the front door of friends.

A loyal supporter of Primrose Hill Community Centre, you could always tell where Mary lived – the railings on her front garden were festooned with notices of coming events at the centre.

She died at 89 on November 10, her funeral took place on Tuesday at Golder’s Green crematorium.

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