Day in the Life of Mary FitzGerald

Siobhan Donohoe

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Siobhan Donohoe

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siobhan.donohoe@iconicnews.ie

Mary FitzGerald

Day in the Life of Mary FitzGerald

Mary FitzGerald, better known as Mary "Make and Do" was a very popular children's television presenter on RTE television in the 1980s and 1990s. She qualified as a Primary School Teacher specialising in teaching profoundly deaf girls in St Mary's School for the Deaf, Cabra, Dublin. She started her broadcasting career presenting the hugely popular Saturday morning children's show, Anything Goes. She made many appearances on Live at Three, The Afternoon Show as well as The Late Late Show including the very popular Toy Show.

However she is best known for her art and craft shows which started as a short ten minute item on Anything Goes. Following on from the huge success of this, she was asked to present her own show on Den TV called "How Do You Do?" The show ran for seven years and during that time Mary produced and presented over 150 programmes and made everything from space ships to doll houses to robots! She was referred to as "Mary Make and Do" by her many fans.

The show was continually a rating topper and was second to the Simpsons cartoon series as the most watched show on Den TV, RTE 2 in the 1990s. During that time she published two best-selling books to accompany the series and also had her own full page children's column in the former Sunday Press newspaper known as the Fitz Kidz Club which had over 10,000 members!

Mary left RTE in 1995 to work as the Public Relations Manager for the Irish Horseracing Authority, (now Horse Racing Ireland, HRI) Leopardstown Racecourse, Dublin. She set-up her own Public Relations Company in 2001, Mary FitzGerald Public Relations and represents a broad range of both corporate and consumer clients. As a freelance broadcaster she still makes regular appearances on ‘Today with Maura and Daithi’ programmes, RTE TV and other shows on radio and television including Virgin Media.

Originally from Kilkenny, Mary now lives in Dublin and has one grown up daughter Caroline Hutchinson.

Here is a glimpse into Mary’s world…

Mary please describe your typical day as a PR guru.

Morning: Most mornings, I do a lot of administration work (the not so glamourous side of PR!) including checking emails and scanning the media to keep up to date with all the news relevant to my clients. I follow up with newspaper editors or radio and television producers to have clients interviewed or go on shows to promote their book, product or other event.

Midday: It varies each day, but can involve writing Press Releases and issuing them to the media or organising clients to do media interviews. I often appear on TV programmes in my own capacity such as the “Today Show with Maura and Daithi “or take part in current affaires panel discussions on RTE, Newstalk and other radio shows including programmes on KCLR.

Evening: Many evenings I attend a Launch or PR event I have put together. I also run adult education evening courses.

You are a lady with many hats, take us through your career transition from primary school, barrister, and broadcaster to PR.

When I left school I went to the Frobel College and Trinity College to study education and train as a Primary School Teacher. I also went to UCD to qualify as a Teacher of the Deaf.

While teaching, I successfully auditioned for a Television Presenter role for a new, RTE Saturday morning show for young people called “Anything Goes”. It featured everything from art and craft to pop music. When it ended I was asked to present my own art and craft show on “How do you do?” I also presented “Action Station Saturday” and “Top Talk” a debating programme for teenagers and “Treasure Ireland”, an Antiques series. 

However I got type cast as a young people’s TV presenter. I looked for a different career outside RTE. I was appointed the PR Manager for the Irish Horseracing Authority. I loved going racing so this was an exciting career move. I set up evening courses in UCD and University Limerick to educate people about the sport in a fun way and they were a big hit with the public!

After working in the racing industry, I established my own successful Public Relations and Events Management Consultancy, Mary FitzGerald Public Relations but when the financial crash came, business slowed down.

I decided to go back to college and study law. I went to the Honourable Society of Kings Inns and did the Barrister-at-Law degree course. I was called to the Bar in 2013. I put my PR Business on hold while I joined the Law Library in the Four Courts and devilled as a Barrister (did my apprenticeship). I then practised commercial, contract, personal injuries, medical negligence and probate law. I represented clients in the Lower and Superior Courts including the High Court when it sat in Kilkenny Courthouse.

While working in the Law Library, I identified a need for a specialist legal recruitment company. I established Assign Legal Recruitment with my solicitor brother John who now runs the company. We recruit lawyers as In-house Counsel for businesses and legal professionals for private practice Law firms.

When the economy improved, clients I represented in my PR business asked me to do PR work for them again. The focus of my work now is mainly in this area as I represent Universities, Charites, Food Professionals and Sporting organisations.

You are original from Kilkenny, what part?

I am from Kilkenny City and was brought up in my parents, Alexis and Mary FitzGerald’s home on the Callan Road. I went to primary school in St John of Gods, Kilkenny and then for one year in secondary school to Loreto Convent, Kilkenny before being sent to boarding school in Dublin to Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham. I am the eldest of nine children; six brothers and two sisters. Hence my parents felt that boarding school was the best place for me in terms of getting me to study without family distractions!

I have since lived and worked in Dublin but return to Kilkenny regularly to visit family and relations.

You were this year’s special guest to help launch the festival and switch on Kilkenny City's Christmas lights alongside Mayor Martin Brett. How did it feel coming back to your home town to celebrate this festive moment?

It was a great honour to be invited back to Kilkenny City to switch on the Christmas lights and officially launch Yulefest Kilkenny. In all the years I was a well-known TV Broadcaster with RTE, I was never asked back to Kilkenny to do anything! I did lots of things for other counties including Dublin where I was one of the Grand Marshalls for the St Patrick’s Day Parade. I also led the Children’s Parade in Dublin which ran for many years during the summer season.

So it was a lovely feeling to come home to do this event in my home city of Kilkenny. I particularly loved doing the switching of the lights ceremony on the Parade, with Kilkenny Castle in the background. I worked as a Tour Guide for two summer seasons during my student’s years in Kilkenny Castle and am still in awe of the fact we have such a beautiful Castle on our doorstep. It comes into its own during the festive season and I loved going back to visit it at this time of year.  Re the switching on the Christmas lights event, I got a fabulous welcome from everyone in Kilkenny, young and old including visitors to Kilkenny who hadn’t a clue who I was, so it was well worth the wait!

There’s a huge sustainability angle for this year’s Yulefest. You were the forefront of sustainability through recycling household goods for 'How do you do?'

Yes “sustainability” is in essence a more formal word for what I was essentially doing for years, showing children, teenagers and families how to recycle household waste materials in a fun way and use them again by transforming  them into exciting toys to play with and other more useful items such as desk tidies to store pens, pencil and markers.

It’s great there is now such an awareness of sustainability and climate change. I did interview David Attenborough years ago on “Anything Goes” re all this but it’s only now that what he advocated for many years and what I did in my small way on TV, is seen of value in terms of people playing their small part by re-using household items and not just throwing them away to add to landfill.

How Do You Do? Inspired a generation of Irish children. We spent hours collecting lolly pop sticks, toilet roll inserts, empty washing up liquids, and corn flake boxes. If you had the show today, what materials would you use?

I would still probably use many of the same materials, as we still have cereal boxes, empty bean cans, eggs cartoons, newspapers etc. There is now however much more plastic than there was before.  Everything in the supermarket, for example, seems to be covered in plastic so I would try and find creative ways to re-use that rather than throwing it away where it endangers plants and animals in particular.

Overall it would be great to find a substitute for plastic packaging, full stop!

RTE must have change a lot since you started in eighties?

It has changed a lot and not for the better in my opinion. For example it no longer makes children’s or young people’s programmes in-house or on site in RTE. Most programme are made by Independent Production Companies and bought in by RTE. Some are very good but others not.  Also RTE, as has been reported, is going through a very difficult time financially as it is competing with a wide range of other media including social media and streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV.

When I was working in RTE there were only two TV stations in Ireland, RTE 1 and RTE 2. We had huge weekly TV audiences watching our shows and we were all very well known. For me it was the golden age of television, never to be seen again in this country or elsewhere.

My generation grew up with Bosco, Zig and Zag and you on the telly. What do you think of kids these days fixated with YouTube?

There are very few stand out characters on TV like Bosco or Zig and Zag that I am aware of to grab today’s children’s attention hence the reason they are looking to programmes on YouTube.

Unless RTE or other TV stations develop decent young people’s programme with strong characters and excellent content, the children will continue with YouTube as it has what interests them.

Most people now who watch television are over 45. Young people have left it in droves as they have fantastic viewing choices elsewhere. I think animation is one area that can attract a new, young audience back to television. I know people who are working to get decent animation characters and stories on screen but the cost of developing these animation shows is huge, preventing very talented people with great ideas, getting them made.

What was it like working with the mischievous Zig and Zag?

Working with them was like sitting on the seat of your pants! I had no idea what they would do or say from one day to the next.  I once invited them onto my “How do you do?” art and craft show as my guests to make things out of cardboard boxes. They decided to make the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa as well as the Dart and then threw everything all over the TV studio and I couldn’t find things for weeks.

I have that famous programme along with 12 other art and craft TV programmes with things to make and do for Christmas, Birthdays, Halloween, on my “How Do You Do?” DVD which is still available for sale on my website www.maryfitzgeraldpr.ie. It would make a great Christmas stocking filler for anyone wanting to re-live their childhood!

What were the guys like behind the puppets? Where they as mischievous?

They were very talented, hardworking guys and also serious business men. They knew the value of their work and how to market and promote themselves. After all they got their own TV shows not only on RTE but on various UK TV stations which were all very successful.

Is there anything that people don't know about you?

Probably the fact that with everything I do I still run courses on horseracing! The next course called “Horses for Courses” is due to start on 10th February 2020. It includes six weeks of lectures from well-known breeders, trainers, owners, jockeys and industry personnel followed by a visit to the National Stud and a free day at the races as well as tips for Cheltenham 2020. A lot of Kilkenny people attended my last course and loved it so if you want to treat yourself or family and friends, to a fun course or take up a new hobby, this would make an ideal Christmas present. To book a place search “Horses for Courses” on www.eventbrite.ie

What was the biggest lesson you have learnt in business over the years?

Never say never.  Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. If something does not work re-evaluate it or move on. You learn something from everything you do which can be of value to the next job, so nothing you do is ever wasted.  Try to be honest and truthful in what you do and build positive relationships with people you come in contact with through your work or elsewhere, even if you might not agree with their point of view.

What is your favourite memory of growing up in Kilkenny?

I had a very happy childhood growing up in Kilkenny. I had brilliant parents, I couldn’t ask for better. With such a big household of nine children, they were fair and firm and encouraged us to stand on our own two feet and get out there and work to the best of our abilities.  As a child they brought us on holidays all over Ireland as felt it was important to see our own country before going abroad.  I particularly enjoyed going horseracing with my Father at the weekends to Gowran Park and the Curragh Racecourse. I thought that’s what everyone did at weekends until I went to boarding school and found no one went racing! I also loved going clothes shopping with my stylish Mother in Kilkenny City.  I am a great believer in shopping local and would encourage as many people as possible to buy their Christmas outfit in Kilkenny this year if they can as opposed to always shopping on line.

What’s your favourite part of Christmas?

Doing nothing! Relaxing and getting time to read books, watching favourite TV programmes and catching up with family and friends. I particularly like the run in to Christmas and the buzz in the city centre in Kilkenny and Dublin.  When Christmas day arrives its lovely just to put the feet up. That’s doesn’t last long in my Mother’s house in Kilkenny though as its always packed with visitors so it’s all hands on the deck making Christmas teas and tucking into Christmas cake . I wouldn’t have it any other way! Happy Christmas everyone.

Kilkenny Yulefest has supported over 600 primary school children in Kilkenny to participate in re-use workshops through a creative collaboration with Recreate Ireland and Cartoon Saloon. Selected shop fronts in Kilkenny will be transformed into magical storyboards through the end use of the workshop’s recycled materials. The windows will tell a story and passers-by will be encouraged to follow the journey to learn about the city and sustainability in a fun and engaging way. www.yulefestkilkenny.ie.