- Ath 20.17
- 1873 - 1955
Mary Hagen Conquest (nee Owen) was born in Stirling, Scotland in 1873 to George and Rachel Owen, the youngest of six children. She obtained the degree of L.L.A. (Licentiate of Literature and Art) from the University of St. Andrews, one of the few universities granting degrees to women at that time. She met her husband William Conquest in London, England and they were married on July 3, 1897. They immigrated to Canada with their six children in 1913. William’s work as a printer took the family to several places in Alberta where Mary volunteered and then worked in various capacities for the Red Cross Society. In 1922, William took a job as printer at the Winnipeg Free Press and Mary got a job as director publicity at the Red Cross Headquarters in Calgary. In the early days of Canadian radio, which at the time was broadcast over CNR or CPR telegraph lines, she read children’s stories as Aunt Mary on the CNR network. She dreamed of combining her Red Cross work with the outreach that radio could provide and she pitched the idea of the Red Cross Radio Lady to the station manager at CFCN in Calgary. She began broadcasting sometime after 1922. She and William moved to Edmonton in 1924 and she continued to broadcast her hour-long radio program from their home at 8416 – 104 Street. William was out of work in 1929 and he answered an advertisement from the Board of Trade in Athabasca, Alberta to re-establish their newspaper and so moved north to found and publish the Athabasca Echo. Mary joining him in 1930. Her work with the Red Cross continued as did her weekly radio program. She had hoped to broadcast from Athabasca but this was not possible so she took train or bus to Edmonton on Thursdays, often accompanied by children in need of care in the city. Mary was diagnosed with Renaud’s disease after pain in the little finger of her right hand became unbearable. In 1932, her right arm was amputated about three inches above the elbow. She returned to radio after convalescence. She became ill again while on vacation in Vancouver and this resulted in the amputation of her left leg. She convalesced in Edmonton but became homesick for Athabasca and returned there in 1937. Her radio broadcasts had ceased with the second amputation; she was only able to get around in a wheelchair. William’s health had deteriorated in the late 1930s and he was diagnosed with cancer in 1937. It was decided he and Mary would return to Edmonton to obtain proper medical care. His son Charles had become the Echo’s publisher until duty in WWII took him overseas in 1941. With Charles overseas, William carried on with the Echo for a few more years until his death on May 16, 1942. After he passed, a chance outing in Edmonton took Mary to CFRN Radio station where she visited with the owner, a long-time friend. The current radio program was interrupted and the “Red Cross Lady” made a surprise broadcast. There was great response from fans and this resulted in Mary broadcasting three 15-minutes programs each week from her home at 10420 – 126 Street. She was very happy to be working again and made a real contribution to the war effort. Her patriotic and philanthropic work was honoured when she was awarded an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honour List in June 1942. After the war, Mary broadcast once a week. She volunteered for the Red Cross Cancer Society, Salivation Army, Victorian Order of Nurses and The YMCA. She facilitated the creation of the Rehabilitation Society for the Handicapped and for inspirational purposes, often invited handicapped people to take part in her radio shows. Mary wrote an article on the history of the Red Cross in Alberta for Alberta’s Golden Jubilee Anthology in 1955. Mary Conquest died on April 20, 1955.