People

Mary Northmore: Bringing
Bali to Buckingham Palace

JP/J.B. Djwan

Indonesians are “wonderful people, wonderful people,” Britain’s Prince Charles told Mary Northmore.

These words of the king-in-waiting made up part of the chat Prince Charles had recently with the longtime Indonesian resident and citizen who was recently at Buckingham Palace to receive her Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). Her award was announced during Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s honors on Dec. 31 last year and presented on June 22, 2011.

Northmore’s MBE was for her work helping sufferers of cranio/facial disorders receive treatment across the east of Indonesia through the Smile Foundation of Bali, or Yayasan Senyum Bali as it is known in Indonesia.

“I was always conscious of all the people who were with me [during the award ceremony]: doctors, donors, staff, volunteers and well-wishers of all kinds — a big organization. It was not Mary Northmore receiving the MBE, but all these people with me,” said Northmore, typically modest of her outstanding role leading the Smile Foundation that has to date assisted more than 1,000 people in cranial facial reconstructions, surgeries that have also reconstructed lives and smiles.

The efforts of the Smile Foundation depend heavily on the skills of Professor David David of the Royal Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which annually donates several beds for severely ill Indonesian patients whose extreme facial reconstructions require the leading techniques of Northmore’s hero, Professor David.

“There were 80 other people at Buckingham Palace to be invested with the Queen’s awards. We could each have three guests, so there was my father, my stepmother and — I couldn’t believe it — Professor David David came from a Shanghai conference. It was such a thrill to have him there. He had met the Queen before but had never been in Buckingham Palace,” said Northmore of the MBE honor she insists is shared.

While not an entrenched royalist by any means, Northmore says the sensation of driving through the gates to the palace was “absolutely amazing. My hair practically stood on end and I thought ‘I am here in the quadrangle of Buckingham Palace.’ We stopped under the portico and stepped out onto the red carpet. It was amazing. My guests were shown into the Grand Ballroom and I was shown into the Long Gallery full of paintings, Canalletto’s, Vermeers and others — it was unbelievable to see these. You never see collections like that in private homes. It was very, very beautiful,” said Northmore of an experience few people ever enjoy.

A few tips on protocol from palace minders and Northmore found herself standing in front of Prince Charles to receive her award.

“That was the first time I have curtsied in my life. Prince Charles stepped forward and pinned on the MBE medal and we chatted. He asked how long I had lived in Bali and I said 26 years. He replied ‘wonderful people, wonderful people,’ so I said perhaps you should come again and he answered ‘yes… I should’,” explained Northmore of her accidental marketing of her home to Britain’s future king when she took Bali to Buckingham Palace.

Not only did Northmore advertise Bali to the prince through word-of-mouth, her jacket for the occasion was created from a Balinese painting, “I think that was the first Balinese painting to enter Buckingham Palace,” said Northmore, who also wore a black, feathered fascinator hat — fascinators currently made famous by the newest Princess of Wales, Kate.

“I had bought my hat at Tiara Dewata in Denpasar for Rp 100,000 [US$12]. I had been there doing the shopping and spotted the hat. People in the UK loved it and asked where I got it — at the supermarket — where else,” chuckled Northmore who gifted the hat that went to the palace to her niece in England.

British-born Northmore arrived in Indonesia more than two decades ago; originally living in Bandung in West Java, Northmore met artist Abdul Aziz during a vacation to Bali. The couple fell in love and married and Mary moved to Bali where she continues to live, now as Aziz’s widow.

When Northmore first stepped on Indonesian soil all those years ago, she would never have expected to spend the rest of her life halfway around the world from her birth country, taking on her new tropical home’s nationality and becoming one of its citizens. Her MBE from her birth country recognizes the good she, with her colleagues, has achieved in her adopted nation.

And it was this that Northmore says was the most valuable aspect of the event.

“At the party after the ceremony there were people from my teenage years, there was my best Indonesian friend, the first dentist in Ubud who I knew in Washington, there was Professor David David — none of these people knew each other so it was a bit like ‘This is your life’, so it was an opportunity to take stock of my life and what I am doing, to look at the people who are important to me — it was a very good summing up of my life so far and you wonder what next, but I don’t see Smile Foundation of Bali letting up in the next 10 years,” said Northmore, who can reckon the sum of her life to date with pride.

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