Love of people Mary's motivation for giving the gift of time
"It's nice to wake up and think today's the day I'm going to do something for someone else."
It was that quote from Mary Barton in this newspaper's salute to her in Volunteers' Week that spiked Our People's determination to discover exactly who this selfless soul is and what motivates her to give the precious gift of time to others.
"I love people", is the unequivocal response.
What's remarkable about Mary's care and concern for her fellow human beings is that she's not too far shy of nonagenarian status, yet maintains the stamina of many whose chronological time clock is decades below hers.
Take the June 21 article that highlighted the work she does taking her Sydney silky, Minnie, into classrooms to assist children with reading difficulties.
She supports the theory children read better to an animal than having an adult leaning over their shoulder, correcting them. The age scales are balanced when Mary and her Canine Friends Group colleagues visit rest homes.
Her work with Minnie apart, Mary's run Arthritis Foundation pool classes for years, was an eco-warrior way before the word became fashionable and marched in the 1998 Hikoi of Hope, calling on the then-government to take prevalent social issues seriously - health, affordable housing and poverty included. She despairs little's changed.
She cares for those too unwell to care for themselves and recently went into battle for a young family in dispute with a man she slams as a slum landlord.
Which brings the question who is this caring, elegant, witty woman with a finishing school education?
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Mary's a Brit by birth. "We came here as '10 pound Poms' in 1952."
"We" includes her late husband, Nigel Barton. We'll gather up that thread of her life shortly, but first to the years that preceded their marriage.
She was at a convent on London's southern outskirts when Hitler began blitzing the bejesus out of the city, her school was evacuated to a country estate not far from Coventry, another city badly bombed.
"We had an incendiary bomb on the roof, explosives hitting the ground around us."
In London her dad was an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden.
"He had an iron bike he called Ivan the Terrible, he wrote to me saying he was in hospital because Ivan had thrown him under a bus."
An abiding war-time memory's becoming lice infested.
"We were told never to lean against head rests on trains or we'd get lice. I was staying with my mother when a hairdresser said she couldn't touch me because I was lousy. Mother was entertaining her polite friends when I raced in and announced 'I've got nits', that was the end of the coffee morning."
Mary makes the risible claim she's badly educated.
"At the convent girls didn't go to university, instead I was sent to a finishing school, learnt to play golf, clean, polish, do laundry. I still use the recipe book we learnt to cook from, we were trained to be good little wives."
From finishing school Mary became an assistant matron at Cheam, the prep school Prince Charles subsequently attended.
"Don't take this the wrong way but I've always liked little boys, they're not spiteful like girls."
In her late teens family friends invited her to Christmas drinks, Nigel Barton was a fellow guest.
"He'd just come out of the army and was wearing brown suede shoes, real brothel creepers. I thought 'what a poofter'.
That would have been that if they hadn't pitched up at the same ball.
"It was very high society, Nigel walked into the ballroom on stilts, I thought it was funny, our hostess didn't. He fell for me straight away, it took me longer."
"Our parents divorced when divorce was a dirty word and remarried, we had eight parents between us."
Mary's stepmother gave Cinderella's a run for her money.
During her engagement and with her father away in Africa the two clashed – badly, Mary ran away from home.
"She wrote me 27 pages of abuse, sold my trousseau and wedding dress material. I married in the most hideous dress, ours was the worst wedding I've been to. I told Nigel I was upset I didn't have a pretty nightie for him, he said 'darling, I like you better without one'."
Home was a farm cottage.
"There was no plumbing or electricity, rationing was still strict. My beloved aunt from New Zealand came to stay, I curried an ox heart, she was so horrified she said 'come and live in New Zealand and feed him properly'."
The couple jumped at the chance, a farmer sponsored them.
"We were 33 miles [53km] out of Dannevirke on a gravel road, our two years there were some of my happiest."
With money in their pockets the couple bought 22 acres (8.9 hectares) cropping beans and tomatoes for Wattie's.
A daughter was born but Mary was homesick.
The family returned to the UK were a second daughter arrived, dying within minutes of birth.
"I asked to see her, the nurse said she'd gone down the chute with the rubbish ... so awful after my wonderful care in New Zealand."
The Bartons farmed pigs, then chickens.
"Britain went into caged birds, we'd had 4000, you needed 40,000, we came a gutser financially, realised we didn't fit in any more."
They hightailed it back to New Zealand, settling in Ngongotahā.
"For the fishing, Nigel adored fishing."
They bought the Ngongotahā Newsletter, along with its sister Murupara publication, later adding the (Western) Heights Gazette to their stable.
"They were little rags but real community newspapers, we knew nothing about publishing but Nigel was very literate, loved words, I sold the ads. I loved going to Murupara, it's terrible how the government let the town collapse."
Conservationists, the Bartons joined the Environmental Rescue Group.
"We battled to save the Blue Lake [Tikitapu] from being built around, fought against plans for a big alcohol rehab place at Rotoehu, with DoC's assistance we convinced the court the area was a bird sanctuary that flooded."
Nigel died on Mary's 65th birthday, she continued with their publications for 14 years until her showpiece garden became too much for her, she moved into town.
A devastating brush with a con artist badly knocked this normally indefatigable woman. She was among other not-so-young folk the fraudster convinced to let become their financial adviser. The rip-off was so large the Serious Fraud Office stepped in.
Mary became the group's support and spokeswoman.
"I don't want to make a drama out of it but she ruined my retirement, I can no longer afford to visit my family in Wellington."
To assuage her hurt Mary's community involvement intensified.
"I feel very strongly about my community, its people mean an awful lot to me."
Born: Thames Ditton, UK, 1930
Education: Convent of the Sacred Heart, Seer Green finishing school (UK)
Family: Daughter, son-in-law, 2 granddaughters
Interests: Family, people, community organisations, gardening, "My pets, going to intelligent films." Active U3A member
On her life: "I've been very blessed with my marriage in particular, I had such fun with my partner."
On Rotorua: "It's become wonderfully cosmopolitan."
Personal philosophy: "Do as you would to others as you would have them do to you."