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Mary understood what people needed from her- a cup of tea, a cake or a spare bed- by being open to listening.

Mary Dolly poses for photo on the beachMary Dolly, like a lot of her generation, was an ordinary woman who sometimes carried out extraordinary acts under often exceptional circumstances. She was born in central London in 1926, during the great economic depression that ravaged post-war Europe and America. Her upbringing as the eldest daughter of a young couple who had themselves endured both fiscal and emotional losses was financially poor but rich in emotional security.

Like many children of the time Mary was expected to share any chores in the family and help others around them. She was only seven when she suffered extensive burns whilst taking a pot of tea to a neighbour. A long bout in hospital engendered in her a stoic patience.

The family moved to South London just before the outbreak of World War II and whilst her mother continued to journey to the West End to work it often fell to Mary to bring up her siblings, who soon numbered three. Despite obtaining a good job in London herself at the age of 14, Mary was expected to give that up to help look after her aunt who had been paralysed during an accident.

Others may have seen these things as obstacles but Mary continued to genuinely maintain her role in ensuring that her family functioned well. The sound nurturing that she had received from her grandmother and her mother stood her in good stead when she began to have children of her own. Living temporarily in post war Germany with her young children Mary found herself deeply affected by the plight of refugees fleeing the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Despite experiencing financial hardship themselves and more than a little hostility from German neighbours not keen to welcome Londoners, Mary and her husband Alec often shared what little they had with fleeing Hungarians, including floor space for sleeping when required!

“So what do you think?”

Widowed at 34 when her husband died suddenly, Mary continued to work hard to provide for her three daughters. In 18 years her eldest daughter could only remember coming home from school once to find that her mother was not in first. Decisions in the family home were always made after full discussions and from an early age the children’ views were always sought. A phrase that Mary will always be remembered for is “So what do you think?” A phrase meant to build sound decision making skills.

Once her daughters left home Mary continued to genuinely share her nurturing nature, helping other members of her family, neighbours and when necessary complete strangers. Her help was never invasive; it might be sweets for a child, home baked goodies or bread for an ailing neighbour or simply a gift of cakes or scones for a local shopkeeper.

The gesture simply said “I’m thinking of you” or “You deserve a treat” – actions and statements often missing in many people’s lives. Even Mary’s doctor was a regular recipient of her thoughtfulness. In 2005 Mary was taken ill and after fighting her way through an emergency operation, subsequent heart attack and stroke, tragically she died aged 78.

Mary’s Legacy – The Mary Dolly Foundation

The way that Mary lived her life was seen by her as ordinary; in these days when people often do not take the time to think of others, her actions, second nature to her, might be seen as extraordinary. During the time that she became ill plans for a charity with the aims of this Foundation were being formulated. It was decided to name the Foundation after Mary Dolly because her simplicity, acceptance and naturally giving nature personified the ethos that this Foundation wants to stand for.

The opportunity to be nurtured and develop to our best potential in order to survive the rigours of life should not be denied to anyone. Mary understood what people needed from her- a cup of tea, a cake or a spare bed- by being open to listening. Mary Dolly the Foundation wishes to emulate and sustain the values and care Mary Dolly the Mother had – that is what this Foundation has a vision of – listening and responding.