Marie O’Sullivan, who has died at the age of 85, was a teacher, a highly successful director, a distinguished member of GoDA for more than 30 years and served as a member of its governing council.
On her retirement from adjudicating in 2016 she was awarded the Guild’s highest honour, being made an Honorary Life Member – a privilege bestowed only on those who have rendered distinguished service during their membership.
At Marie’s funeral mass, held at the Sacred Heart Church in Henleaze, in her home City of Bristol, the Guild was represented by Chair Chris Jaeger and former chairman Paul Fowler.
Marie spent virtually her whole life in the Henleaze area of the City, attending local schools, teaching and becoming the driving force behind St Ursula’s Players.
Member David Hopewell – one of Marie’s oldest friends and a stalwart of the group - spoke about Marie’s infectious enthusiasm for the theatre an her steely determination in recruiting new members- including himself.
And he paid tribute not only to her talent, but also to her personal kindness and generosity over many years.
St Ursula’s Players were winners of the English finals with Gillian Plowman’s play Me and My Friend and reached the British All Winners Finals with the Irish play The Invisible Man by Jenifer Johnson.
Marie was married to Hedley O’Sullivan, who was a familiar figure to many in the festivals movement and must have clocked up thousands of miles chauffeuring her to engagements all over the UK.
Their children were Martin, Claire and Julian, and she had four grandchildren - Holly, Poppy, Caitlin and Niamh.
Son Julian has given permission for me to use excerpts from his warm and evocative tribute to his Mother, and he began his eulogy like this:
“I made the observation at Dad’s funeral 14 years ago that I was aware that not many eulogy speakers have to worry about getting ‘notes’ at the end, yet today I am aware that as well as actors and directors, we also have two esteemed Chairpersons of the guild of dramatic adjudicators with us – so out of the frying pan…!
It is often surprising for children to be made aware of the regard in which ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ is held by others - many of you will remember my father’s passing and the breadth and depth of regard for him was truly humbling – a fact that I was in many ways unaware as he was keen to allow himself to be just dad at home. ..
So, I feel privileged to have been party to mum’s successes and to witness her skill and passion for many years as teacher, director, and adjudicator.
One of the qualities which marked mum out was, I feel the unwavering belief that all people were able to meet her extremely high standards. She always set the bar high, whether for little ones at their first poetry class in an eisteddfod, or at youth theatre with initially ‘not that bothered’ teens, grand works in the outdoors at Ashton Court with the Avon Association of Drama or her many productions with her beloved St Ursula players. All were treated to the same passion and people new to her found themselves caught up in an experience they did not realise they had signed up for….but nearly all returned for more.
Her success in all of these endeavours is remarkable – the awards garnered by her many students, the One Act plays at the Bristol festival and beyond, often far beyond, Rose Bowl awards, her work with AAD and later her success as a highly sought after adjudicator at the highest level and all across a span of years comfortably over half a century.
Yet these were never ‘her’ successes and never sought after for herself, but rather for the joy of a job properly done and as a means of demonstrating to the world what good amateur drama could be.
It was the energy and passion which she brought that helped drag the rest of us up to her level – there were never any easy rides in a Marie O’Sullivan production…and this perhaps was the unkindest blow dealt by her Parkinsons disease, which diminished her in a way we would never have deemed possible – your kind donations in support of research into this disease have already been generous and are gratefully received.
Whilst it is true that, mum will certainly be remembered for her many successes in the field of drama, it would also be true to say that many of us remember her as an unintentional master of the double entendre. There was rarely a show which did not provide a gem, such as the menfolk being urged to help Lois humping backstage, or during an outdoor production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, her insistence that this particular part of that tree was to remain for the sole use of Puck and that no-one was to touch Puck’s knob or sit on Puck’s knob…slightly worrying for me was her beaming smile which accompanied the resolution of a difficult casting situation with the words, - “don’t worry everyone, I have got a very strong Hymen.”
And he concluded: “I know you will all have your cherished memories of the many years which mum devoted to you as a friend, a teacher, a fellow Player, or maternal figure and she would wish to be remembered as that. Having lost her rock, my father, you were what kept her going through those remaining years and that is a gift we can all share.”
GoDA has made a donation to Parkinsons UK in memory of Marie – a fine adjudicator and a staunch friend to many members.