There’s something about Mary

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Bringing joy: Pink-haired Mary Keith with her head-turning 1929 Austin 7 Chummy

She’s only been about five years in town, but Mary Keith’s already one of Queenstown’s great characters. The pink-loving pensioner, Harley-Davidson, vintage car and cafe owner and mad ice hockey supporter tells Philip Chandler what makes her tick

It’s hard to miss Mary Keith.

The pink-haired 65-year-old is often spotted trundling around town in her 1929 Austin 7 Chummy, tooting at passers-by and smiling wickedly.

Pop into Bobs Weigh cafe and you’ll see her chortling away with customers.

Come the ice hockey season, you’ll see her in SkyCity Stampede colours, noisily barracking for her team.

Doubtless, plenty of people must be asking if she’s mad or does she just enjoy life, and how come she wears pink?

Brought up in South Otago, she says her dairy farming parents worked their kids hard and were dead against them dyeing their hair or taking holidays.

Keith first dyed her hair pink after her mum’s death in 1999.

“I put the colour in, watch Coronation Street – that’s how long it stays in – and then wash her out, so when Coronation Street was going for an hour, she’s getting a bit bright there, for a while.

“I’ve got my hot-rod, that’s pink, I’ve got the Harley-Davidson called ‘Pinkalicious’ and my bedroom is pink.

“My entire wardrobe, basically, is pink.”

But why pink?

“Nobody ever looks at pink and cries, and the world is black – what’s that about?

“You’re a long time dead – you’ve got plenty of time to wear it then.”

Keith moved to Queenstown after splitting up with her husband of 40 years. They’d owned an engineering company in South Otago.

She jokes that she had a really good divorce lawyer, but in fact she’d had dibs on Queenstown way back.

Her mum bought a holiday home here in 1982 for $85,000 – “it’s valued now at $1.3 million” – and in 2007 she and son Robert bought their cafe.

While Bob cooks, Mary engages in banter at the counter. She often tells customers she had to give birth to get a job there.

“I love the young kids having a go at me, and then just chucking them down, it’s too easy.

“Some days I may get a little bit out of hand. Quite often Bob thinks that the filter’s missing.”

She quips that one customer who looked at the photo of the 1929 Austin 7 and asked whether she’d bought it new, got short shrift: “That guy has no longer got kneecaps.”

Living life to the full: Mary and Bob Keith barracking for the SkyCity Stampede team

Mary and Bob not only live and work together but also jointly own several local rental properties.

“What Robert says is he’s now a real estate owner with a cafe for a hobby.”

They also own three cars together – including a 1931 Model A Ford bought early this year – and eight motorbikes.

Often they’ll ride 700km in a day on their bikes, as far away as Oamaru, for example.

Two years ago, while driving her brand-new Volkswagen over the Crown Range, a French driver coming the wrong way smashed into Mary’s car.

She suffered multiple injuries, including a broken sternum, but looking back she says “it makes you appreciate what you’ve got”.

Mary says she and Bob want to use their Austin and hot-rod for fundraising efforts for cancer victims and the like.

“I just think I’m blessed to get to this age and still be healthy, so if you can help somebody else, maybe you’re paying it forward.”

Mary and Bob are also great supporters of the local ice hockey team, often helping out individual players.

Asked why she loves the sport, she says: “You can go down there and scream your head off – it’s free counsell-ing.

“You hold nothing back and nobody’s going to arrest me.”

As for Queenstown, Mary says: “I just love it, it’s a happy place, you can have a laugh, you can wear what you like, nobody judges, it’s brilliant.”

scoop@scene.co.nz