Marjorie Doyle grew up in a life of privilege in St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital city. Her father, a middle-aged prosperous businessman, married Mary Foley, a young woman who had escaped a childhood of poverty.
Mary Foley, Mary Doyle is Marjorie’s journey to uncover the layers of her mother’s life. It is not a straightforward story to tell—secrets, lies, omissions, and equivocations were the tools Mary relied on for protection.
Mary Foley was raised in the 1920s and 30s in a bleak mill town on the west coast of Newfoundland. The Foleys of Corner Brook were urban poor; Mary never mentioned an address, just the relentless pursuit by landlords—one of whom hauled the roof off their house to force them out.
With the help of her ambitious illiterate mother and a convent of nuns, Mary earned her secretarial diploma, her ticket to St. John’s. She married her boss, a wealthy widower 25 years her senior and the father of five boys. Gerald Doyle was the eponymous founder of the Doyle Bulletin and the Doyle Songbook. They had an 11-year idyll, including sailing around outport Newfoundland in their own yacht.
But Gerald’s sudden death in 1956 left 39-year-old Mary with eight children, a household staff, and a business to run. She was “game,” a word she loved. She toured Europe for three months with children and no itinerary and later drove around Morocco in an Austin Mini. At age 57 she was awarded a long yearned for university degree.
But a deep-rooted contrariness complicated every relationship. She fell out with maids, doctors, neighbours, siblings, and her best friend and faux lover, a priest. A fierce sense of how the world should be drove her battles. A smoldering disquiet that the world was not fair, born of early years when poor and vulnerable she couldn’t fight back, haunted her.
Marjorie Doyle stitches together her mother’s fascinating life story from family recollections, archival work, and personal papers found after Mary’s death. Mary remains at centre stage of the story, as Marjorie—challenger, admirer, detective, herself part of the narrative—tries to record a life and penetrate the shield of a proud and secretive woman.