Real Life

How inspirational tycoon Mary is giving back to the people who saved her

Mary’s grateful for the lifeline she was thrown in her tough times
Mary Haddock-Staniland wearing blue and standing in front of a white wall

Lying on a Fiji beach, holidaying with friends this year, transgender champion Mary Haddock-Staniland was unexpectedly overcome with an intense longing – and finally a feeling of readiness – to reconnect to her heritage and learn te reo Māori.

“We lay on the beach watching kapa haka videos, me bawling my eyes out, and it was amazing,” recalls the global businesswoman.

Just weeks later, she had begun private language lessons and knew it was going to be one of the most healing experiences of her life. Through the lessons, she confronted feeling excluded from the Māori world during her traumatic childhood.

“It’s been a very powerful journey to date,” she reveals. “My father was so horrible to me as a child. He told me, ‘You are not Māori, you are not a woman and you are not welcome on the marae.’”

Born a boy named Robert in Matamata, with an identical twin brother, Mary desperately struggled with her identity and sexuality growing up. At 18, her life began as Mary. Now at 41 years old, she says her past won’t hold her back from her Māoritanga any longer.

“I’m taking that power and ownership off my father. It’s finally giving me more mana to stand in my truth and do my mahi [work]. I’m a trans Māori woman in a senior position in a Nasdaq [New York stock market] listed company in America. That’s the power of all the hurdles I’ve overcome,” says the EverCommerce Senior Vice President of DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging).

“Now I want this more than ever. I have some gravitas and I want and need to do more for our people. I can take what we know about Māoridom to the corporate world and use my voice to create change.”

Mary talks to to the Weekly ahead of Lifeline Aotearoa’s 60th birthday. It’s especially easy to see how the longtime ambassador for the free mental health helpline holds her own in international boardrooms.

She’s also an in-demand keynote speaker on the global circuit, sometimes presenting to an audience of thousands. But she insists none of it would have been possible without the support of Lifeline. They helped to pull her out of a very dark time in her early twenties.

“It was a season of my life where I was in a black hole and I couldn’t see a way out,” she recalls. “I talked to Lifeline regularly and they were amazing.

“I didn’t leave the four walls of where I was for such a long time, but they were a voice at the end of the phone with no judgement and it was also anonymous.”

She hopes her story will encourage others struggling with mental health to rise above any fear and shame to reach out for help.

“I love my life now. While that wasn’t always the case, life is what you make it,” says Mary. She’s also working on a limited release of clothing with Kiwi fashion designer Annah Stretton, titled Unapologetically Mary. Proceeds of the collection will go to Lifeline, which receives no Government funding. “I acknowledge what I went through to ensure it empowers me to keep doing the mahi.”

Mary Haddock-Staniland and Annah Stretton standing in front of racks of clothes
Designer Annah has created the Unapologetically Mary line.

The passionate advocate shares there are still hard days dealing with social media hate and even online death threats. However, now she feels more ready to face it head on.

“I certainly love to be proactive. To stare it down the barrel and hit it in the guts by finding coping mechanisms and seeking help from loved ones,” she declares.

Self-care, manifesting, exercise and the unwavering support and love from her husband Willie are also vital.

“Sometimes the most simple things give me the most joy. Like lying on the couch watching TV with Willie and our two Tonkinese cats in my ripped, 10-year-old Kmart pyjamas,” she says. “When I’m overseas, it’s often what I crave.

“Willie was born in a very different world to mine. He’s white and 10 years older but our worlds collided and 18 years after we met, he’s still a safe, steady pair of hands. I have said for many years I’m incredibly lucky to have him.”

And in a touching message to Mary for their recent 13-year wedding anniversary, Willie returned the sentiment.

Mary and Willie smiling for a selfie
Willie has been Mary’s unwavering cheerleader.

“I couldn’t imagine life without my Poppy,” he says. “She is full of passion and energy, and is as driven as ever, pushing boundaries and causing chaos, quite literally, around the world. It does me good trying to keep up.”

Laughing, Mary adds, “I’m an ambitious b**ch on a mission to create change.”

To donate or find out more about Lifeline, visit lifeline-aotearoa.grassrootz.com/lifeline-s-60th-birthday

Lifeline by the numbers

Lifeline is here for people 24/7, supporting on average 17 people at high risk of self-harm or suicide every day.

Every month, Lifeline receives up to 8000 calls, and receives and sends 20,000 texts from people in crisis or distress.

If you need help or mental health support, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or text 4357.

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