Monday, April 6, 2009

Former Millionaire Who Refused to Leave Cuba Dies at 108

One of the most enjoyable daily routines to be had in London is reading the Telegraph's obits. They detail the lives of both famous and not-so-famous giving the reader a sense of the fabric of days gone by. Today's on Mary McCarthy Gomez Cueto, a Canadian Catholic who stayed in Cuba after her fortune was confiscated is a great example:
The daughter of an Irish-born merchant who supplied groceries to the great fishing fleets in St John's, Newfoundland, she was born Mary McCarthy on August 12 1900 and educated by the Sisters of Mercy, who encouraged her to sing and play the piano.

She was studying music in Boston when she met Pedro Gomez Cueto, a dashing Spanish businessman who exported leather goods from the United States to South America. Her father insisted that the couple wait for a year before marrying, during which time Mary taught music in St John's. After their wedding in 1923 the couple set off for a seven-month tour of Europe. Pedro promised her parents that they would live in Boston, but they eventually moved to Havana, where he made a fortune making military boots for the Americans in the Second World War.

After Pedro's death in 1950 Mary McCarthy was a wealthy woman – until Castro confiscated her holdings, valued at $4 million, and granted her a monthly pension of 200 pesos (about £9). But while other members of the middle class fled to Miami to await what they expected to be only a brief interruption to their style of life in Cuba, she vowed never to abandon the island or to marry again. Since she had little interest in politics, she was left alone to share the fate of the Cuban people.

Mary McCarthy played the organ at her church into her nineties, until it needed $10,000 to be repaired, and then was filmed for a television documentary singing and pressing the silent keys. She continued to make regular visits back to St John's, where she would buy the right tyres for her elderly Cadillac. And while always enjoying the round of parties given for her, she was sometimes disappointed to see younger guests leaving around midnight.

When the Americans, about whom she entertained ambivalent feelings, suggested that she could resolve her financial dilemma by moving to Newfoundland, her reply was that she could no longer bear the North Atlantic island's harsh winter.

Mary McCarthy Gomez Cueto drew strength from her determination to outlive Castro and her strong Catholic faith. Every afternoon after tea, she would say the rosary to seek the aid of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, to whom Castro's mother also had a strong devotion.

Many more interesting details over at The Telegraph.