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Friday, January 4, 2019


(Mary Ashdown)

Tribute by Rob Cross, the former Chief Director of NAPAC (now the Playhouse Company)

Mary Ashdown, one of the best known personalities from the earliest days of the Natal Performing Arts Council until her retirement a few years ago, has died in Scotland where she had been living with her daughter, Ravelle.

In 1963, Mary joined NAPAC (now The Playhouse Company), when the staff consisted of only four people under the direction of Chris Lombard. She was officially his secretary but she did everything and anything that needed doing - as everyone did in those early days. I was already a staff member and I remember a drama production in the Little Theatre in Acutt Street at which Mary sold the tickets, I sold programmes and our daughters, Ravelle and Jan, were the usherettes.

Mary had been born in the Transvaal and her first job after leaving school was working for the now-legendary Dr P P Breytenbach, who, after World War II, had founded the National Theatre Organisation from which the four Arts Councils eventually grew in each Province. It too was greatly understaffed and Mary soon learned that one did whatever needed doing - never mind titles or job descriptions.

She came to Durban in the early 60s where she married and had two children. Hearing that NAPAC needed a secretary, she applied for, and was given the job. She was soon seconded to the organisation’s Music Department and was particularly good at the organising of the tours that NAPAC took through the province and handling the complex logistics of touring. She was eventually appointed NAPAC’s Music Manager, a senior post which she held until her retirement.

All of us who knew Mary for the 50 years she was part of the NAPAC staff, will be deeply saddened by her death. She was a warm and always-helpful person and was deeply missed by all those with whom she worked when she decided to emigrate to Scotland to be with her daughter and family there. – Rob Cross