A Writing Life Selected Journalism of Mary Willan Mason 1925-2017

For more information contact: jparry@rogers.com

  • Approximately 220 pages • 8.25” x 5.5”
  • ISBN (TBD)
  • Price (TBD) CAN/US
  • 2024-25

A few months ago designer Anne Vellone of vellonedesign.com and I began working on a project about our dear friend, Mary Willan Mason, daughter of the legendary composer and organist at St Mary Magdalene Church (corner of Ulster and Manning, Toronto), Dr Healey Willan. Outlining briefly Mary’s remarkable story. Born in 1920, Mary Willan Mason, now 103, got the journalism bug’ eighty years ago when she served as assistant night editor at the University of Toronto’s legendary student newspaper, the Varsity, during her final year (1942-43) as a student at University College. In those days, the paper, which went to press five days a week, had a reputation that seemed to span the continent. And how remarkably well prepared she was for her eight decades in journalism — writing especially about art, drama, music, and travel — that followed!

Early 2022, Mary was preparing to move from her home of thirty-five years, she came across a shelf where she had placed magazines as they arrived with her articles in print — eight large, heavy bags in total! Looking through the vast selection carefully, ensuring that the publishers and printers had honoured Mary’s impeccable writing (almost unanimously they had) John Parry and I were fortunate to acquire and select various articles — about seventy in total, mostly on art, music, and travel — that we thought would work well in a book. Writer and journalist Mitchell Consky (Home Safe) interviewed Mary to prepare his engaging and insightful foreword from his vantage point at the start of his career. As the designer of the book I have compiled all material needed to proceed with design, production and a small print run of the volume. For more information about the book, click here to read pdf brochure which includes 2 articles, which includes a couple of Mary’s articles that appear in the book.

John has been blessed to know Mary for forty years, since meeting her when he was copyediting FRC Clarke’s magisterial Healey Willan: Life and Music (1983). John set up his little house, Words Indeed, to publish her lively childhood memoir, The Well-Tempered Listener: Growing Up with Musical Parents (2010), which appeared for her ninetieth birthday. It recounts with insight, humour, and love her remarkably accomplished childhood in a richly cultured home in north Toronto. Music and music talk filled the lively home: Mary’s parents, English-born composer and organist Healey Willan, and her mother, the double-gold-medallist pianist and singer Gladys (‘Nell’) Hall, also born in England knew many talented musicians and composers (her mother was a friend and colleague of the great theatre impresario Dora Mavor Moore).

Mary attended her first opera at four, performed on stage at the Heliconian Club and went to concerts and ballet — and sailed to England! — at five, was sewing costumes for performers before she was ten, and matriculated with honours in all six subjects from Britain’s Royal Drawing Society at fifteen. After graduation from university, Mary worked in the 1950s as art, drama, and music critic at the Hamilton Spectator, prepared “Missives from Mary” for the monthly newsletter of the Ontario Choral Federation when she was its director (1975-83), and spent decades — from the 1980s to late 2010s — working freelance for a range of magazines and journals, including the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the Canadian Opera Companies Arias, Canadian Stamp News, the Gallery Magazine, the University College Alumni Magazine, and even Robert Stacey’s legendary Northward Journal: A Quarterly of Northern Arts.

She wrote extensively for Antique Showcase in the 1990s and 2000s — up to four articles per issue — about exhibitions, galleries, museums, antique dealers, and galleries, often adding delightful touches of human interest. In the 2010s, in her nineties, she did a lot of writing for Catholic Insight, travelling widely in Canada and the United States, and to such distant lands as the Baltic states, Ethiopia (where she journeyed part-way by camel), and Kurdistan. The latest item of Mary’s that we’ve located is a charming and insightful review of the exhibition “Chagall and Music,” at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal, which appeared in the Heliconian Club Yearbook (full circle!) in 2017, the year she turned ninety-seven.

With Mary’s invaluable input and enthusiasm, we have been in the process of selecting this wide-ranging sampling from her eight decades in journalism and the book is currently in design and production stage.