The woman who never came home

Newfoundlander Mary McCarthy subject of upcoming Cuban documentary

Was Mary McCarthy a Newfoundlander who lived most of her life in Cuba? Or was she a Cuban, who happened to be born in Newfoundland? It’s hard to say, but doesn’t really matter to Iohamil Navarro, a cuban filmmaker who is making a film about her life.

McCarthy was born in St. John’s 1900, studied music with the Sisters of Mercy and, at 18, went to Boston to pursue further education and a career in music. There, she met Pedro Gomez Cueto, an older (and considerably wealthy) Spanish businessman. They were married and moved to Cuba, where Cueto owned a leather factory, in 1923.

“It’s a story of a woman with a very strong desire of doing the things that she believed in” —Iohamil Navarro

Cueto died in 1951, but McCarthy remained in Cuba for another 58 years, where she died in April of 2009, less than a month before her 109th birthday.

She lived through two violent revolutions and lost almost everything she had (with the exception of the Villa Mary, the house Cueto built for her in the 1936), but refused to live anywhere but the island, saying that it was her home.

When McCarthy died, she was eulogized in newspapers around the world. Her home had been in the diplomatic district, so any living diplomat who had been stationed in Cuba remembered her, and her piano.

“You don’t find that kind of story every day,” says Navarro. “You don’t find that kind of person every day — a woman with such a willingness to do whatever she thought was right, and a woman with a strong willingness to stay in a country which was at first hostile but at the same time doing something good.”

After Castro’s revolution, with all of her assets (aside from the Villa Mary) seized by the government, McCarthy turned to teaching. She taught English and Piano, and continued to do so until her 100th birthday.

Universal story

Mary McCarthy at 108 — Photo/Reuters

McCarthy’s obituaries run to the political; her frozen assets a testament to the anachronism of the American Embargo in the 21st century. They say she didn’t want to return home to Newfoundland because of the weather.

The way Navarro sees it, politics are almost beside the point.

“It’s a universal story. It’s a story of a woman with a very strong desire of doing the things that she believed in, that’s the main goal of the story. We’re going to portray the story of a woman who happened to live in Cuba, who happened to be born in Newfoundland, but at the same time this is the story of a woman with a very strong willingness to follow her ideals, no matter what.”

Mary’s story won’t be the first that Navarro has chosen to tell. He’s personally produced two other films, one about the legendary cuban singer Benny Moré, the other about the underground world of homosexuality in Cuba.

“I prefer working with stories that really tell something, and really convey a message to the future generations,” said Navvaro.

Once he’s got a production team ready, Navarro plans to visit Newfoundland, looking for roots and records. If everything goes on schedule, the film, as yet unnamed, should be out by the end of 2012.

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