Meet Mary Munson.
A bundle of energy, an upbeat attitude, exploring new possibilities, accepting new challenges, seeking new adventurers.
All of those attributes, launched her career in broadcasting, got her writing a book (not quite finished yet), turned her into a hooker – a hooker of rugs, resulted in getting married at age 60.
Mary grew up in a home where a lot of conventions ruled the day.
Dad was a United Church minister for more than 50 years, working in New Brunswick and Montreal.
Her upbringing embedded strong convictions in Mary – life would not be bound by conventions and traditions.
“In my own quiet way, I strove to be unconventional. No nursing for me, no teaching for me, no children, no white house with a picket fence. I wasn’t an active rebel but I just wanted to be independent and so I was. There was a lot of convention in my family and in the church family…I wanted something different.”
Something different is what Mary’s life is all about.
One of her teachers helped her along.
“My Grade 10 history teacher, Miss Watson, taught a Current Affairs component as well. So every Sunday night, our assignment was to watch “This Hour has Seven Days”. Watching Laurier LaPierre, Patrick Watson and Dinah Christie thrilled me and I knew what business I was headed to. What a treat for me when Dinah Christie’s father, Robert Christie, taught theatre at Ryerson. Then I worked with Patrick Watson on Venture.”
The die was cast – broadcasting was it.
Mary ended up moving to Toronto, enrolled at Ryerson University, the radio and television arts program, graduating in 1971.
“My first job was at CKVR, Barrie – where I ended up producing three shows – Reach for the Top, Movie Review with Claire Olsen, and This ‘n That ( a daily talk showwhich I am sure was desperately awful!).”
After Barrie she was Toronto bound.
She joined the CBC as a script assistant – worked on Mr. Dress Up, Take 30, Man Alive, TV drama.
Script assistants are the unsung heroes of broadcasting. They are the Jack and Jill’s, the moms and dads of broadcasting, taking care of all the nitty gritty a TV show requires.
In 1985 she took the CBC’s Current Affairs Producers’ Course.
That course launched her career as a CBC news and public affairs producer.
For the next 25 years she worked in different jobs either in Toronto or the Maritimes, often alternating between the two locations.
She worked on some of the best CBC programs, the Journal, Midday, among others.
One of her crowning achievements – producing an award-winning documentary, Angela’s Journey.
“I followed Angela Vecchio-Ozmon for more than two years as she lived with metastatic breast cancer, ” eventually dying from it at age 39.
That experience changed Mary.
“I learned that one person’s story can have an incredible impact. But mostly I learned about empathy. I really grew in this period….understanding empathy….not just for Angela but for all the medical people who looked after her. They cared so much for her. What a moment when her oncologist held her after delivering particularly bad news! “
“As I was screening some tape (footage of the documentary) one day, a colleague came up to me and said “what a slog.” It was never a slog, it was a labour of love. I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to help her tell her story to so many.”
In 2011 Mary retired from the CBC but still did contract work for the corporation for another four years.
But there was another momentous event that year, she got married for the first time at age 60.
And then in 2012 there was that move to Cape Breton.
“When I moved to Cape Breton, I took up rug hooking (not knowing that my grandmother was a rug hooker.”
She also became a CNIB vision mate to a woman who is now 102, and started researching and writing a book.
Why rug hooking?
“I knew I wanted a hobby when I retired. For some reason, I knew it was rug hooking. A friend in Halifax, who had roots in Cape Breton, knew of my interest. She told her sister in law in Cape Breton who, in turn, called me. I joined her group even though I knew nothing about it. The first two years were a struggle but I kept at it. So glad that I did because I love the process and the finished product.
“Rug hooking is very creative….you get to choose colours, textures, materials. Then you watch it come to life as you work with your hands. I compare it to the editing process when you watch a piece (a documentary and or a TV news story) come alive – when the pictures and sound are added. I find it so exciting. An idea, seen only in your brain, now lives for everyone.”
Below two of Mary’s hooked rugs.
Her marriage to Dave – an ex CBC employee – fits her non conventional mould.
She and Dave had been together for more than 10 years before tying the knot.
“There was a kind of eureka moment when I said “I really love this man.” “And “Wow, am I lucky to have him in my life.” Our marriage is not particularly conventional either…he’s a homebody who loves domestic life. He doesn’t mind cleaning or cooking…he does laundry and sews on buttons. Many think I am very spoiled.”
And there was a surprise.
“What I wasn’t expecting was the absolute joy I have received from watching my four step grandchildren grow up.”
The impetus for her book came from a documentary she produced on fairy culture in Cape Breton.
The book has been in the works for the past two years – researching and writing – delving into Celtic and indigenous peoples’ fairy beliefs, stories.
But it’s close – close to being published.
Her move to Sydney, Cape Breton, surprised some.
“The move to such a small centre as Sydney was a surprise to many. Some were bemused, one colleague apparently said “What is metropolitan Mary going to do in Sydney?” That’s what love does…and I was up for a new adventure. Cape Breton is beautiful and there are so many fine folk here. I have made tons of friends through our neighbourhood, rug hooking and book clubs.”
Journalism-broadcasting runs in the Munson family. Her brother Jim was a long-time correspondent for CTV, roaming the world, stationed in Beijing, London, Ottawa.
Well done Mary – that Frank Sinatra song, I Did It My Way, comes to mind.