Sir Arthur Pearson’s lieutenant – Mary Hamar Greenwood

11 April 2017 18:00

Mary Hamar Greenwood was one of the first supporters recruited by Blind Veterans UK. Our founder Sir Arthur Pearson believed that people who had themselves lost their sight were the best teachers of the blind.

Born in 1865, Mary was from Whitby in Ontario, Canada; her father John was a British émigré lawyer who became a mayor of Whitby. The eldest of six siblings, Mary studied nursing in the United States and went on to a distinguished career at the John Hopkins Hospital at Baltimore. Sadly she lost her sight and in 1915 decided to travel to England. Her brother Thomas was already in the country, and had become a Member of Parliament. Thomas’ great grandchildren include model Poppy Delevingne and her sister, model and actress Cara Delevingne. 

Black and white photo of Mary Haman Greenwood and VAD Mona Elliott in a garden
Once in England, Mary went to help at the 2nd London General Hospital in Chelsea. Sir Arthur Pearson had arranged those returning blinded from the war and needing hospital treatment to go there prior to joining our charity. One of these blind veterans, William Thomas ‘Ginger’ Scott, met Mary there as a 17-year-old in 1918.

Sixty years on, he still remembered her warmly, writing in our magazine, the “Review”, of his time at the hospital that ‘…friends from St Dunstan’s had come to help us. One in particular was Miss Hamar Greenwood, herself blind, who began to teach us to read Braille while we were in hospital.’

Mary’s time at the 2nd London General Hospital was the start of a very long association with us. The photo above, which we believe dates from 1919, shows her on a visit to us in Regent’s Park. Mary became a member of our Executive Council in 1924 and continued to serve on this until her death in 1953. She supported us in many other ways, including visiting our centres and attending reunion events for our blind veterans. In the photo below she is pictured, on the right, in 1935 at one of these events in Brighton.

Black and white photo of Mary Haman Greenwood and another woman
Mary’s story is less remembered today than that of some of her family members. She never married, but her sister Florence’s husband was Leo Amery, later a Cabinet minister and their son Julian also became an MP and a Government minister.

Mary’s brother, Thomas, went on to serve in the Cabinet and became Viscount Greenwood. Thomas’ daughter Angela, the grandmother of Poppy and Cara Delevingne, was a well-known society figure. She even spent time in Hollywood and was offered a role, which sadly she was unable to take up, in ‘Gone with the Wind’.

Mary died at the age of 88. Leo Amery wrote of her that:
"When what was already a remarkable career seemed cut short by blindness, she resolved to start afresh, and threw herself with undaunted zest, as one of Sir Arthur Pearson’s lieutenants, into the work for blinded soldiers..."
Our then Chairman Lord Fraser, himself a blind veteran, remembered not only her formal contribution as a member of our Council as ‘an expert, humanitarian and loyal colleague’ but he also paid tribute to other ways in which Mary had personally helped him and so many others: ‘…she had exactly the qualities required…which gave encouragement and comfort.’

To see more stories from our Historical Photography Project click here or check our Facebook page weekly for our #ThrowbackThursdays.