The Courier-Mail

Coach shared her love of swimming


A PASSIONATE advocate for swimming being available to people of all ages and abilities, Mary Wood never stopped appreciati­ng the fact she made her living doing something she loved. She was also very good at her job. A contributo­r to the National Swimming textbook Successful Strokes, Mary was a mentor coach for three years with the Australian Coaches Associatio­n.

She was still working poolside only five weeks before her death and was thrilled when she was recently made a life member of Brisbane Swimming in recognitio­n of her devotion to the sport.

Mary was the only child of British immigrants Fred and Verna New and arrived while they were en route to Australia. Shipping records show they were headed for Sydney but had stopped in Auckland, leaving when Mary was just a few weeks old.

Her parents were both formidably determined people, a trait they passed to their daughter.

Verna was a milliner who had trained in Luton, which was famous for its hats at that time, and Fred was an adventurer who had run off to sea when he was 15 and, by the late 1920s, was living in New York.

He was also an accountant and served in Australian Intelligen­ce during World War II. Becoming aware of the “Brisbane Line”, an alleged plan to abandon northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion, he moved his family to Melbourne.

With her father posted overseas and her mother working as a milliner, young Mary was often left in the care of an old woman and remembered these as hard times.

Food was scarce. She remembered receiving letters from her dad and the military censors having blacked out most of what he wrote.

Mary never forgot the day they received a black-edged telegram saying he was missing in action. He had been captured in Singapore and was one of the handful of survivors of the notorious Sandakan Island who escaped before the death marches. He spent much of the war in Changi and the brutal Outram Road prisons.

This had a significan­t effect on Mary as he had been a difficult man before the war and was worse on his return. Her childhood was harsh.

She started school in Camberwell in Melbourne and soon after her father’s return, they moved to Cairns where she finished her schooling at St Monica’s College, Cairns State High and also a year as a boarder in Herberton on the Atherton Tableland.

She was still very young when she met the dashing Charlie Down. They were married and had five children – Rob, Sue, Syd, Craig and Jo – a lonely only child herself, she now had her own big family.

Unfortunat­ely, the marriage broke down. As well as there being no support services for single mums at that time, there was also a social stigma attached to divorcees.

It took enormous determinat­ion and strength for Mary to leave Charlie. She moved into a small flat in Gordonvale. Times were very tough.

Mary then met the ambitious, hugely talented and charismati­c Ken Wood. Their friendship endured for the rest of Mary’s life.

Over the next 38 years, Mary made a name for herself as a profession­al in her own right.

She commenced as a learn-toswim teacher, ran several aquatic centres with Ken and became a Level 3 coach, organising learn-toswim and coaching for hundreds, probably thousands, of swimmers of all different ages and abilities.

Mary was the Australian head coach for the World Deaf Olympics in 1989, Australian Coach of the Year in 1989, was awarded an Australian Institute of Sport Achievemen­t plaque while working at the AIS in Canberra and was a lecturer for Austswim and Queensland Swimming Associatio­n courses.

Mary and Ken had a proven ability to take on underperfo­rming swimming clubs and turn them into successful operations.

Mary loved celebratio­ns and events, from family barbies to blacktie balls, and travelled extensivel­y during her life.

Another of her passions was her singing and performing generally.

She was a founding member of the singing and dancing group, Dance-a-Lots, who provided entertainm­ent at many venues, particular­ly aged care facilities on the Redcliffe Peninsula and all over the Brisbane area.

Mary was also a long-term member of the choir, Multitude, and was one of the members who ensured the choir continued when the original conductor resigned.

She was also a keen member of the Greensleev­es Choir.

Mary was enthusiast­ically involved in the community and for many years visited elderly people in aged care homes who had no family.

She was a community-minded woman of great courage, determinat­ion and an indomitabl­e spirit.

Mary is survived by her children, 10 grandchild­ren, nine great-grandchild­ren, and two half-sisters.

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