Prince Charles honours organist who is still playing after 75 years
Published on 8 August 2022 3 minutes read
A church organist who is still playing after 75 years got the surprise of her life when she was honoured for her dedicated service by Prince Charles.
Mary Edmondson, 89, was left "gobsmacked" when he presented her with a basket of flowers at Canisbay Parish Church in Caithness yesterday.
Wearing traditional Scottish dress, His Royal Highness congratulated her on the milestone and also delivered a letter from the Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, who described her as "truly inspirational".
Prince Charles, known as the Duke of Rothsay in Scotland, is currently staying at the Castle of Mey near John O'Groats, which once belonged to the Queen Mother.
Like his grandmother, he attends Canisbay Parish Church when he is staying at the castle, which he inherited upon her death.
Prince Charles was invited to make the presentation by Rev Janet Easton-Berry.
Warm and gracious
The minister said: "Mary has been playing the organ in various churches and denominations for 75 years and started playing at Canisbay Parish Church when she was 81.
"She is an amazing lady and much loved, so we wanted to organise a special surprise for her during the annual Royal Service.
"I told her at the last minute what was going to happen and the look of surprise on her face was wonderful because she did not have a clue.
"When His Royal Highness approached her with the basket of flowers and Moderator's letter with a huge smile on his face she was in absolute shock.
"It was so lovely and very, very special.
"He is a very warm and gracious man and Mary held his hand and told him that she started playing the organ when she was 14.
"Prince Charles told her that she must be the most longstanding organist, having played for 75 years and still going.
"The presentation meant so much to Mary and I told her that we appreciated her and we loved her."
Despite Mary's long career, Ms Easton-Berry revealed that there was a time when it might not have got off the ground and generations of churchgoers would have missed out.
"Mary's initial music teacher told her mother that she was wasting her money as she did not have talent, but how wrong she was and how glad we are of that," she said.
Mary, who lives close to Canisbay, was joined at the church service by her faithful ginger and white long-haired Chihuahua, Poppy, who travels everywhere with her in a tartan carry basket.
Poppy sleeps quietly during sermons but always pricks up her ears when her mistress starts playing the organ but she is much too well mannered to howl along.
Speaking after the service, Mary confirmed the presentation came as a complete surprise to her and revealed that Prince Charles was "quite taken" by Poppy.
"I go everywhere with her and I told her that she was going to meet the Prince and she licked his hand, so that was nice," she said.
Mary revealed that she met Prince Charles at Kirby Stephen Parish Church in Cumbria in the 1990s, and when she mentioned that to him he said he remembered the occasion.
Ms Easton-Berry described the Moderator's letter to Mary as "very warm and heartfelt".
Dr Greenshields wrote: "It is evident how much the congregation have appreciated your musical accompaniment as you have shared your talents during the past seven and a half decades.
"Thank you for enriching the worship of an innumerable amount of church services over so many years.
"I am delighted that your long service will be recognised on Sunday, 7 August with a much-deserved presentation from His Royal Highness."
In addition to still playing the organ at 89, Mary continues to work as an artist and she often goes to John O'Groats with Poppy and sells her paintings from the back of her car.
Like members of the Royal Family, she loves horses and used to do a lot of carriage driving when she was younger and has many cups and rosettes in her house in memory of those wonderful days.
After the service, Prince Charles planted a rowan tree in the church garden to mark Her Majesty the Queen's Platinum Jubilee and a plaque will be erected.