Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - November 2018

Sponsored by Geoff Patching
Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

RIP Mary Marshall

Honorary member Mary Marshall died peacefully in her sleep at home on the 1st of September. She was 93 years old. Mary’s nephew contacted us to give the sad news. He was aware that Mary had made audio recordings of chess literature for us for many years and he wondered whether we still had any of them. His aunt had been a remarkable lady and he was hoping to “let Mary speak for herself” as much as possible at her funeral service by playing a recording of her voice. Fortunately, our efficient Audio Librarian, Mark Kirkham, was able to help him.

In this obituary a similar approach is adopted i.e. using Mary’s own words wherever feasible. Mary wrote a letter for the Gazette in 2002 in which she told us a little about her life and explains how she first came into contact with the BCA. The letter is reproduced at the end of this piece. It perfectly conveys Mary’s witty sense of humour, her strong work ethic and her desire to be useful to others.

By 2004, Mary’s own eyesight had deteriorated to the point where she had to retire from reading for us. She was made an honorary member and was sent a gift token. With it, Mary purchased an orchid, which she described as being “a wonderful shade of deep pink and purple”. Astonishingly, when Mary wrote to us again in 2015, she still had the orchid and gave the following update: “It is not only still alive but this spring it has produced a second stalk and that is now in flower.”

Mary was an excellent reader. Her recordings were both instructive and enjoyable and many BCA members gained a huge amount from the time which she so generously devoted to making them. We are by no means alone in having benefitted enormously from her work though. When an announcement about Mary’s death was placed in the local newspaper, Mary’s nephew was contacted by a man, now 63 years old, who was the second baby that Mary had ever delivered! No doubt there are countless others who are profoundly grateful to this talented, selfless and industrious lady. Sincere condolences to her family and friends. Rest in peace Mary.

Mary’s letter from 2002:


We are three ladies living in retirement, grey-haired and a little doddery, (but we all have our own teeth). The oldest is Biscuit, a sort of mini-lurcher aged 14. Bryony is a sort of collie-King Charles, and I am a sort of retired nurse. Bryony and I are doubtful about our ages, but certainly quite old.

I trained during and just after the war, starting at Great Ormond Street, then doing general at St. George’s, Hyde Park Corner, later moving to Brighton where I trained and practised as a midwife for some years. After that I returned to London where I did district and health visitor training, and came to know South East London very well, pedalling round Camberwell and Brixton and Peckham on a second-hand bicycle bought for £5. I left London to work in Kent around Ashford and Canterbury and spent the last 25 years of my career doing a mixture of general nursing, midwifery and health visiting in a rural area in East Sussex.

Faced with unexpectedly early retirement for health reasons, in 1980 I looked for useful things to do, and, encouraged by a patient who had joined the recently formed Calibre, I sent in a sample tape and was accepted to read for their “special requests” section. Soon I was reading for 2 local talking newspapers and then Calibre telephoned to say B. C. A. had asked if someone would read chess for them, and I agreed to have a go. I received a very indistinct instruction tape which I found difficult to follow, only to hear in the last seconds a clear voice saying “I hope you can understand this – I find I’ve been sitting with my back to the microphone!” At that time there were several notations used for printed chess, which I found confusing, and it was some time before I could persuade anyone to give me a clear idea of what was wanted and how to do it. The first few years must have been just as difficult for the listeners as for me!

So now you know how it all began and why I started to read chess. I remember playing occasional games with my older brothers sometimes, but I have no head for figures and can only marvel at the complicated manoeuvres and great feats of memory required to play the game. I am more competent with knitting needles than knights, better with crosswords than kings and queens.

In 1992 I spent the weekend in Rutland for the 60th anniversary of B. C. A. and was at last able to meet some of you, and watch, spellbound, as you played in the tournament. (There’s a lot of walking about involved, isn’t there?) I still have, hanging over the mantelpiece, the gold medal presented to us as a memento of the occasion. I have also met some of you when I have been up to Waterloo station on days when you were fundraising and playing demonstration games with interested passers-by.

Perhaps one day you will hold an A. G. M. somewhere down in this part of the world and I shall be able to meet some more of you. In the meantime, as I say on Sunday afternoons “This is the end of this recording.”