Daughter, wife, mother, friend, actor, director, visionary. Mary Huggins touched the lives of thousands during her remarkable 95 years. Most notably, she left a beautiful legacy of three children, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren – each one, blessed by her passion, and her love.
Mary Paula Richard was born in Sittingbourne, Kent, in June of 1923. She and two older sisters – Agnes (Humphrey) and Peggy (Levett) – were raised in southern England. During World War II, Mary joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where she was part of the tactical team that helped to fight the air war during 1941 and 1942. After the war ended, Mary met Douglas Huggins, a dashing soldier who had returned from service in Burma. In storybook fashion, the two were married in 1947.
After the birth of their oldest child Michael, the family emigrated to Vancouver where Douglas began working as an architect. Soon after, their second child Susan was born. Hoping to settle in a growing town, the Huggins’ moved to Vernon in 1958 where they would contribute to the community for over 50 years. Their third child, Peter, was born in 1961 to complete the family.
It was during this time that Mary and Douglas – along with a few dedicated others – founded the Powerhouse Theatre. The pursuit of excellence in theatre led Mary to act in over 25 productions, and direct some 20 more. She also became the organization’s artistic director for several years, where she was responsible for developing the season playbill and procuring guest directors, costume designers, and others to raise the bar even higher.
Through her mentorship, she influenced generations of young actors, technicians, and administrators – many who have continued in theatre at all levels. They remember Mary as an inspiration, and someone who had a profound impact on their lives.
Her career stands at the pinnacle of community and professional theatre. In 1965, Mary was honoured with the Nella Jefferis Trophy for Best Actress, at the Dominion Drama Festival in Brockville, Ontario. Additionally, she is a five-time winner of the Best Actress award at the Okanagan and British Columbia regional festivals. Between 1970 and 1975, Mary also performed at the Vancouver Playhouse and Vancouver East Cultural Center in professional productions of “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg”, “Relatively Speaking”, and “Heartbreak House”.
In 2006, Mary was awarded the Eric Hamber Award, presented annually to a person, group or institution having made an outstanding contribution to community theatre in British Columbia over a long period.
Amongst all of this, Mary and Doug travelled extensively, seeing five continents and holidaying yearly in Maui. In 2009, they moved to Maple Ridge, where they could be close to their children and growing extended families. Even as her cognitive abilities faded, Mary never lost her wry sense of humour – joking, singing, and loving everyone until the end.
Mary passed peacefully, surrounded by family, and blessed by a priest as she had wished for. As she lay, Mary left one lasting impression that would have sealed the academy award in any decade. She let one tear fall down her cheek, took her last breath, and left this world.
She rejoins Douglas, her closest friend Paddy Malcolm English, her parents, sisters, and in-laws, where they now dance the night away, and quite possibly are producing the latest version of a Shakespearian classic. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, perhaps you can hear Mary, as Juliet: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
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