Mary Wihongi was born July 16, 1911 in Russell, New Zealand to a Scottish father and a full-blooded Maori mother. She lived a somewhat isolated childhood, but was given plenty of parental love and care. She remembers her father bringing out his bagpipes and playing for his family of 14 children. After he played, the whole family would join in dancing the old Scottish dances. When Mary was seven, she traveled with two of her sisters who were school teachers so that she could attend school. She spent five years with them and then attended Queen Victoria College, a special school for Maori girls. After three years there she became a school teacher herself. While on vacation, she was invited to attend an LDS Christmas program, and it was there that she first met her future husband, Patrick Wihongi. Through Patrick, Mary was slowly introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 'Patrick would take me to his church and everything seemed to be so organized and so many people seemed to be doing things.' Although her family opposed it, Mary and Patrick were married, and Mary eventually joined the church. They frequently invited Elders, couple missionaries, and mission presidents into their home. When her children were young, Mary took on relieving teaching at the local school. Once the war broke out, teachers were scarce, and the Education Department asked her to return as a full-time teacher. She traveled by bus, bringing her two children, ages three and three months, with her. Despite her workload, Mary was still able to fulfill her church callings as Branch MIA Councilor, Branch Relief Society Councilor, and District Assistant Secretary. When Patrick was called on a mission to supervise the church's building project in Hamilton and to be president of Huntly Branch, Mary came along and taught school there. She was active in organizing church balls and floorshows, which were popular at the time and helped to stimulate people's interest in the church. Their branch also held dances every Saturday for the youth, 'endeavoring to introduce some formal dancing and keeping Rock-n-Roll dances about 4 or 5 dances apart.' Mary was active in family history; although her family members would never let her discuss the gospel with them, she did all of their temple work. In 1977 Mary suffered a serious heart attack, but she lived despite being told several times by the doctors that she would die. Of this experience, she said that she was not afraid to die and that she must have some work left to perform. At the time Mary wrote the biography, in 1978, she was focusing on developing stronger relationships with her relatives and sharing the gospel with them.
This collection was submitted as part of the Women's History Archives at Brigham Young University. Mary said of being asked to submit her life story, 'When I was approached I was overcome with awe, to be asked to fulfill such an assignment and I humbly seek my Heavenly Father's guidance enabling me to submit something which may give someone as much pleasure to read, as they share with me the wonderful 42 yrs. I have experienced since I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.' The collection includes a letter to the Women's History Archives, four photographs, and a twelve-page handwritten autobiography. The photographs are of Mary and another sister at the Sandiago (San Diego) Zoo in 1969, of Mary in front of her house, of Christmas dinner at their house with the couple missionaries in 1966, and of three grandchildren with the missionaries after Christmas dinner. In the autobiography Mary focuses primarily on her conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how it has affected her life. She does not give specifics such as the names of her parents and siblings or the dates at which important events occurred. However, she does go into detail in describing the good upbringing that her parents gave her. She also mentions her father-in-law, Henare Pere Wihongi, with admiration. He was a stalwart man who helped to spread the gospel in New Zealand. Culture is an important part of Mary's autobiography as well. She mentions the challenge of creating effective church leadership for the different Polynesian, Maori, and European peoples in the church there. One experience that Mary relates in great detail is the opportunity she had to attend General Conference in Salt Lake City. Patrick was invited to come because of his leadership positions, and the members in their branch contributed so that Mary could come with him. They were welcomed to Utah by the Elders who had served in their area, and after attending General Conference they traveled through Utah, Idaho, and California, attending sessions in as many temples as they could.