Fund-raising legend mourned

Mary Riley
Mary Riley

A WIGAN great-grandmother, described as one of the “rocks” of the Catholic Church’s humanitarian work overseas has died.

A requiem mass will be at St Cuthbert’s RC Church in Newtown today for 90-year-old Mary Riley followed by internment at St John’s churchyard.

Spirited Mary, who lived independently in Pemberton right up to being taken ill on June 27, is survived by daughter Lynn, sons Barry, Ron, and John, plus eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

The Church’s famous missionary Red Boxes have stood in many devout households, mopping up spare change for the past 75 years. And for 58 of them Mary dutifully did her rounds in Wigan collecting the cash to help the world’s destitute.

When she started in her 20s, there were just 22 households to visit across the parish each quarter. The Archbishop of Westminster, the late Cardinal Basil Hume, presented her with a special, rarely awarded medal for her services to the poor.

When a national director of the programme, Mgr Canon James Cronin said at the time: “Mary is the sort of rock on which the programme is built - she is a jewel in our crown.”

Mary had a huge circle of friends and admirers following two stints and stewards at St Cuthbert’s parish club with her late husband Tommy.

She was also a familiar face on both sides of the fish fryer at the popular Beech Hill chippy the Trawlerman run by son Ron and daughter-in-law Sandra.

Family say her gentle modesty belied a truly amazing spirit and when she funded a holiday home for relatives in Cyprus she famously enrolled at night school in Orrell when in her mid-70s to successfully learn spoken Greek.

She also thought nothing of regularly travelling huge distances around the country on her own by train to visit her beloved grandchildren.