Mary Anthea Wright (nee Ellis)

Her daughter Janice Wright has assisted us with the writing of this biography and has supplied the photos used. R Taylor, has collated the biography and has relied heavily on her obituary, which was written by Janice and posted on the Heritage Funeral Centre website.

Class of 1966


Family History and Childhood

Mary was born in Wellington, New Zealand on 16 January 1934 to Frances Anthea Hatton (nee Loughnan) and John Stuart Ellis. She was the eldest of their five children; one brother (John “Martin”) and three sisters (Juliet, Penelope and Clemency). Her mother, born in Christchurch in 1908 and her father born in Wellington in 1907, were married in Christchurch in February 1932. (1)

Mary attended Auckland St. Ignatius Convent Primary School for her primary education and Sacred Heart Girls (later named Baradene) for her secondary schooling. She was athletic and was a strong tennis player. (2)

University, Ballroom Dancing, Marriage, and Family

Mary attended the University of Auckland where she completed her B.A. in 1952 with a major in French which led to her doing some French translation work. This started her on a lifelong love of formal education. (2)

Gordon and Mary

From 1952 to 1964, she studied ballroom dancing where she met her husband Gordon Wright (now deceased). They married in 1954, and together won gold medals in ballroom and Latin American dancing. Mary made her own competition dresses out of tulle or net, thirty yards in each skirt, with hand sewn sequined designs. (2)

Their three daughters, Sheryl, Elaine, and Janice were born in Auckland, in 1955, 1956, and 1958 respectively.

Despite having three young daughters, Mary successfully completed her study towards her Medical Intermediate at University of Auckland and was accepted into Otago Medical School in 1961. It was speculated by her mother that she chose medicine as it was the longest degree.

Otago Medical School and House Surgeons Years

The family moved to Dunedin in 1961 so Mary could focus on her studies. For the next several years the girls went to boarding school. Mary excelled in her studies and received the following honours:

  • 1962 Scott Memorial Prize in Anatomy
  • 1962 Malcolm Memorial Prize in Physiology
  • 1962 Senior Scholarship in Medicine
  • 1964 Champtaloup Memorial Prize in Medical Microbiology
  • 1965 Scholarship in Medicine
  • 1966 Travelling Scholarship in Medicine (she came first in a class of 101 students)
  • 1966 Received her registration as a medical practitioner with the degree of M.B. Ch.B.

She was a house surgeon with the Otago Hospital Board during 1967 and 1968. (2)

Post-Graduate Studies and Psychotherapy Career

Following her house surgeon internship, Mary received a scholarship to the University of Toronto, after which, she and her daughters immigrated to Toronto, Canada.

They travelled by passenger ship to Vancouver and then rail to Toronto. She commenced a psychiatric residency at the University of Toronto from January 1969 to the end of 1971 followed by psychoanalytic training at the Canadian Institute of Psychoanalysis from 1971 to 1976. She obtained the following psychiatric qualifications as a result of these studies: FRCP (by examination) 1971, DPsych University of Toronto 1971, and Member of Canadian Psychoanalytic Society, 1976. (2)

In 1972, Mary began her own private psychotherapy practice in Toronto. In 1976 she extended her practice to include psychoanalysis. She was an avid student of Dr. Heinz Kohut, a 20th century psychoanalyst who expanded the field of self-psychology. Until Kohut died, she travelled frequently to Chicago to see him. She worked at her practice in Toronto  for the next forty-seven years, until her retirement at the age of eighty-five years. (2)


Mary had a very strong creative side which she developed in later years. She studied oil painting with the artist Anthony Thorn from 1975-1977. This encouraged her to enrol in the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto in 1979. In 1981, she was admitted to Fine Arts with Advanced standing (year 3) where she studied drawing, watercolour, colour, two-dimensional and three- dimensional design. From 1985-1986 she studied sculpture followed by study in experimental plastics and metal structures. She then studied foundry techniques and processes and worked with wax, bronze casting, and direct construction in cement. (2)

Mary with one of her many paintings

To support her love of creating art in every medium, Mary took courses in welding, carpentry, and cabinetmaking at George Brown College in Toronto from 1986-1988. In 1993 she graduated from Ontario College of Art: AOCA (Associate of the Ontario College of Arts) Honours. Over the years, her work has been shown in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Italy, and Chile in 16 solo exhibitions as well as many group and juried shows. (2)


Mary took up the piano later in life, where she met her long-time companion, James. She achieved the highest level, 10, at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Mary also taught herself to play electric bass to accompany her pianist partner James Blight. Mary had a very good soprano voice and successfully auditioned for and was accepted by the University of Toronto Hart House choir where for many years she “sang her heart out” even to the point where she learned Russian so she could understand one of the songs she was singing. Mary was very adept at picking up languages. She also sang in the Toronto Physicians Choir from 2018 to 2020. (2)


Mary passed away on 19 December 2021 at the age of eighty-seven, during the second winter of the Covid-19 epidemic. She was survived by her three daughters, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren as well as her four siblings and many nieces and nephews. All her siblings live in New Zealand.

Mary did not forget her New Zealand roots. A fellow Kiwi, Dr. Graeme Taylor, Otago class of 1964 and now professor emeritus of psychiatry University of Toronto, mentioned in his tribute that a small group of New Zealanders would occasionally get together for a social occasion. (2) Over the years, she returned to New Zealand for family visits and the class of 1966 reunions.

At the time of her passing, her sister-in-law Kathie Ellis paid this tribute to Mary. It captures with warmth some of the essence of Mary. (2)

Wonderful Mary, I have many happy memories of her visits to us. My earliest memory was when we visited her in Toronto in about 1978. We loved Toronto and we so enjoyed spending time with Mary and seeing her amazing and varied paintings, so awe inspiring. Her subject matter varied in wondrous ways, and we enjoyed her explanations and insight into the human mind. My daughters and Martin and I spent some wonderful times with Mary, and we particularly enjoyed her visits to us at Pakiri. She enjoyed the peace and landscape opportunities for her paintings. I remember one of her Art showings in town. What a wonderful evening examining her paintings and chatting with her. I so admired her depth of some of her exhibits and use of colours to express emotions. Mary was so talented in all her different fields and found time for her medical profession, her creativity as an artist, her musical expression and was devoted to her lovely daughters and grandchildren. I will always be inspired by Mary and full of admiration for how she utilised all her potential and served humanity medically and creatively in so many fields. My comforting thoughts go to her three daughters, her three sisters and brother and the rest of the family. With love to you all from Kathie Ellis.


  1. Burness J. Burness Genealogy and Family History [updated 01.03.2023; cited 18.04.2023]. Available from:
  2. Wright J. Obituary: Dr Mary Anthea WRIGHT Toronto 2021 [18.04.2023]. Available from:


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