Mary Pleasant Ormiston was born on the 17th May 1914 at 135 Sheen Road, Richmond, Surrey, the first child of Philip Herbert Ormiston, wire manufacturer, and Dorothy Ormiston nee Nicholes. Mary was the oldest of four children. When she was not yet nine years old the family suffered a terrible blow when her father died suddenly from septicaemia at the age of 48. Mary and her sister Jill were sent to boarding school which she loved and of which she had very fond memories.
On leaving school, Mary went to work in the family wire-drawing business in Clerkenwell Road, in London’s East End, but the most significant and life-changing event of her early life occurred in 1932 when, at the age of 18, she went with a school friend on a guided tour of Scotland, her first holiday without the family. The tour began at Fort William and it was there that she was much taken with the tour guide – Terrick FitzHugh. To ensure that he made contact with her after the tour she deftly dropped her handkerchief out of the train window onto the platform as the train steamed away on its journey south. After a courtship of five years and she eventually married Terrick at Shepperton church in September 1937, travelling to the reception by boat. Her mother was living at Dunally. The Thames was always an integral part of her life – her brother Jack and several nephews rowed at the Henley Regatta.
She and Terrick made their first home in Richmond on Thames and, having also left the wire business, she became a student teacher at the Old Vicarage School on Richmond Hill. After the second World War started and Vara had been born, they returned to the Shepperton area and made their home at Rest Harrow, in Upper Halliford, moving to Fernleigh, Manygate Lane, Shepperton in 1948.
During the Second World War, while Terrick was serving in the RAF, Mary, then with two small children, was left at home. She became a welfare officer for Land Girls in 1942. Four land girls had been recruited to work at the Halliford French Gardens (now Squires) opposite Rest Harrow and one was billeted with Mary. They all joined in social evenings there – reading plays etc, carol singing, producing a play for the Village children at Christmas and many other things to help during the war. The girls would baby sit for Vara and Ticky and were well rewarded with tea and cakes. Mary also lent her wedding dress to one or two land girls, a very welcome offer because one had to give up valuable ration coupons for a dress.
But looking after land girls was not enough. Mary was a staunch member of Halliford Women’s Institute, and became County Drama Adviser for the Middlesex WI Federation, directing plays for the WI over many years, Her interest in drama had developed early – in 1934, she had been a founder member of the Richmond Shakespeare Society to which she returned as a guest of honour at their 65th birthday celebration in 1999.
In 1944, very close to the end of the war, a chance meeting with a lady swimming in the Thames led to a lifelong friendship, a teaching post for more than 30 years and early education for two generations of FitzHugh and Williams children. For that swimmer was Audrey Kaye, proprietor of Danesfield School in Walton-on-Thames. Mary taught drama at the school and introduced many children including her own and her grandchildren to performing.
She helped to found the Shepperton Players, for whom she acted and directed. Open Air Shakespeare in Manor Park was a yearly institution, always directed by Mary. Rehearsals would be held in her garden and the casts were dressed from her extensive collection of period clothes which was housed in her home.
When she moved to Ottershaw in 1962, Mary, quite naturally, became involved with the Ottershaw Players. The costume wardrobe expanded with the extra space at Meath Cottage, drama societies and individuals passing to her costumes which she cared for and hired out.
Politically, Mary leaned to the left, at one time standing for election as a Labour councillor in Shepperton – she didn’t get in. Terrick probably influenced her; he for a while in the 30s was an intellectual Communist and subscribed to the Left Book Club, and when first married, they belonged to the Unity Theatre. In later life she supported the Liberal Democrats. Although she often said, “l could have had many more friends, had I been a Conservative”, she remained true to her ideals and had many good friends from all parts of the political spectrum.
Mary retired from Danesfield in 1979. So she had to find more to fill her time. What did she do? She created the Runnymede Arts Association, became its first Chairman, retiring in 1990 when she was made President and honorary life member. Her work for the Arts in Runnymede was recognised in 1983 by an award from Surrey County Council.
She also kept busy with her craft group that met every week at Meath Cottage and her poetry group. For her 90th birthday the craft group presented her with an embroidery depicting her life.
Mary and Terrick were happily married for 53 years. She felt Terrick was her mentor, always very knowledgeable and a real gentleman. On leaving the RAF after the war, he entered the film industry and became a director of documentaries. After he retired, he could devote more time to his life-long hobby of genealogy, having several successful books about family history published and embarking on writing his own family history dating back to the 14th century. In 1989, he was awarded the gold medal on the Society of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. He also started a magazine called “The Amateur Historian” which was professionally distributed for several years. Terrick died in 1990. They had three children, Vara, Terrick and Nigel. When Mary died in 2005 she left four grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Tragically, her son Terrick, also a talented actor, died when only 50 years of age in 1992. Vara followed her mother in becoming a drama teacher, pursuing amateur drama as her hobby and becoming a member of the Board of Trustees of Hampshire WIs.
Mary was very influential in the local drama festivals in Spelthorne and Woking. When old age prevented her taking an active part, the organisers would send her free tickets to the festivals and Mary loved attending every evening that she could, and especially discussing the plays afterwards in the bar. Quite often she hosted the adjudicators at Meath Cottage and most of those who had enjoyed Mary’s hospitality remained great friends with her. She was a larger than life character and had the gift of making and keeping friends wherever she went. She is well remembered and sadly missed in Ottershaw.
Article written by Mary’s daughter, Vara Williams