Phyl and John Ferguson, ca 1965
Phyllis Mary Morry BORN: 29 Apr. 1916 St. John’s, Nfld. DIED: 22 June 1995.
Aunt Phyllis, or Phyl, as she was known by everyone, was the matriarch of the Morry clan, a role she was forced to accept, due to the early death of her mother, Fredris [Minty] Morry, but one she welcomed and fulfilled to perfection because of the love she had in abundance for every member of the Morry family. She was the eldest of nine children born to Howard Leopold Morry and Fredris Marion Powdrell Minty, a Scottish war bride, and was born during the height of WWI while her father was in transit from the Peninsula Campaign in Gallipoli to the killing fields of France.
Aunt Phyl had a tough life, beginning with a difficult birth that left her with a permanent limp for the rest of her life. Her only marriage was blackened by the scourge of an alcoholic and abusive husband, but that sad period in her life was counterbalanced by the years of a loving relationship with that irrepressible Scotsman, John Ferguson.
Growing up in Ferryland
Mom Morry and Aunt Phyl, April 1916
Baby Phyllis with her grandfather, Thomas Graham Morry
Dad Morry with Phyllis, Bill and Tom, Ca. 1920
Phyl dressed in her grandfather’s uniform skating, ca 1934
St. Augustin and The War Years
Aunt Phyl was married to Bert Mercer in December 1936, before the outbreak of WWII. Shortly afterwards they were hired to operate a Hudson’s Bay post at St. Augustin, on the lower north shore of the St. Lawrence in Québec near the Labrador border. Their first child, Howard (known as Howie to most) was born while they were stationed there in 1938. Aunt Phyl told stories of the aboriginal babies that died in winter when the ground was too hard to bury them being brought to the post by their parents to be kept in the deep freeze until the Spring. These and many other difficulties endured at that time, as well as the outbreak of WWII, led to their return to Newfoundland.
Hudson’s Bay Post, St. Augustin, 1936
Phyllis and Bert on dog sled, St. Augustin
Phyllis [Morry] Mercer, St. Augustin
Aunt Phyl had a natural talent for music. Though she would have had lessons on the piano from her mother, her natural skills for improvisation and for being able to play any tune named without ever having played it before and without sheet music, were gifts that were unique to her. Naturally, during the war years when there were many servicemen from Commonwealth countries and the US in Newfoundland, her skills were in high demand for every party, both in St. John’s, where she then lived on Springdale St., and back home in Ferryland.
A later shot of Phyl on the piano, Bill listening
Elsie and Phyl with English Sailor
Gladys, Reg, Pat, Bill, Phyl, Tom, René and Bert ca 1945
Phyl with first born son, Howard, ca 1938
Life in St. John’s
Even before Mom Morry passed away in 1948, Aunt Phyl kept under her wing her younger brothers and sisters, but her youngest brother, Howard, was her special charge, because he was only fourteen when his mom died. The experience left a lasting and strong bond of love between them, added to by the deep love and respect they both held for their father. But the house at 83 Springdale Street became a sanctuary and home away from home, not only for young Howard, or slim as he was then known, while he attended high school in St. John’s, but also to sisters Catherine, Elsie and Jean and brother Tom as they set themselves up in St. John’s or moved on to the mainland and the US.
Phyl’s house at 83 Springdale St.
Elsie, Phyl with only daughter Fredris, and Jean
on Springdale St., ca. 1944
Son Blaine on Springdale St., Ca. 1954
After her divorce from Bert Mercer and finding John Ferguson, the man with whom she would spend the rest of her days, though she stubbornly refused to marry the man, the two of them bought and operated The Veteran’s Inn, on the brow of the hill leading into Torbay from St. John’s (somewhat ironically, now the site of a gas station and a funeral home!).
It could not have been easy working at “the Inn”, but diplomacy and a firm hand won out in the end. Some may say that she was a tough bird (a description that would no doubt have delighted her), but that was a protective camouflage only surface deep, thinly covering the sensitive and loving person and the heart of gold that anyone who knew her more than casually soon came to benefit from.
Life still revolved around her family and her music (both on the accordion and piano) both of which found a welcome home at the new house at 40 Portugal Cove Rd. Waifs like me found a welcome home and a shoulder to cry on there whenever needed.
Dad Morry on the doorstep of 40 Portugal Cove Rd., ca 1970
Phyl with cousins John and Jim Bailey at 40 Portugal Cove Rd.
Aunt Phyl and me raising the Union Jack on the outhouse of the Wee Hoose, Ferryland ca 1975
The death of John Ferguson in 1984 hit aunt Phyl hard, though she would be the last to admit it. Her health also began to act up on her more than usual. Her remaining years until her death in 1995 were made easier for her by the return home of her daughter Fredi and her favourite (well OK her only!) son-in-law, Stan Caines.
Fredi is like a less-crusty but equally loving and loveable version of her mother and it must have been a tremendous comfort to my dear Aunt Phyl to have her close by as the end approached.
Aunt Elsie, Fredi and Stan at the Ferryland dinner theatre