The Goshen ladies of 'Downton Abbey': A story of friendship

Goshen. Best friends Barbara Morrison and Mary Smith are passionate fans of the popular Masterpiece Theatre series. But the time they spent together watching all six seasons was about much more than a TV series. It was a time of healing after one of them had suffered terrible life blows.

Goshen /
Oct 03 2019 | 04:11 PM

Barbara Morrison and Mary Smith are the best of friends, there for each other in good times and bad.

In the summer of 2018, Smith had suffered two blows: she had recently lost her husband, and was recuperating from surgery. To help her pass the time at home, her cousin lent her a set of DVDs for the entire six seasons of "Downton Abbey," a popular television series portraying the lives of an aristocratic English family and their servants. She told Morrison about it. Neither had watched it while it ran on PBS, so the two of them watched it together at Smith’s house, a couple of episodes at a time, once or twice a week.

“We just loved it,” Smith said. "And we teased each other that’s the only time we never talked -- while the show was on.”

Smith and Morrison jokingly referred to each other as “Lady Barbara” and “Lady Mary,” like the noble ladies portrayed in the show. They were completely hooked on the series.

During the summer, Smith was staying in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and Morrison planned to visit her. She saw that the "Downton Abbey" traveling exhibit was going to be in West Palm Beach. The friends had missed the exhibit when it was in New York, so they knew they’d be going to this one. Smith bought tickets as a birthday present for Morrison, and they drove together to West Palm Beach.

“We got to see all the exhibits -- Lady Mary’s bedroom, the kitchen, all the sets and the furniture and wardrobe," Smith enthused.

The costumes from the series were authentic to the period, and exquisite. They stayed for four hours.

Then the "Downton Abbey" movie came out. Now back in Goshen, the two friends decided to see the movie dressed in approximations of period costume. Two other friends, Barbara Bauer and Kathy Brogan, joined in the plan.

“We just thought it would be fun,” Morrison said. “I decided to do a luncheon. I wanted to wear my dress from my daughter’s wedding, because I’d never get a chance to wear it again.”

Smith said Morrison did a wonderful job creating a Downton-worthy luncheon. They sipped tea with tea sandwiches, including cucumber and chicken salad. They ate Waldorf salad and feasted on scones and mini pastries.

“While I was preparing for the luncheon,” Morrison said, “I thought it was easier for them," the Downton Abbey staff. "I had to do the cleaning and prep and had to be Mrs. Patmore, Mrs. Hughes, Daisy, and Anna before I could be ‘Lady Barbara.’”

Just like the nobility, they left all their dishes for the help when departing for the movie.

“The butler cleaned it up -- that would be ‘Lord Paul Morrison,’" said Morrison, laughing.

Making an entrance

Their arrival at the theater created a sensation.

“At the Galleria, as soon as we got out of the car, women were coming out of the theater and stopping us and saying, ‘Oh my God, you look so great,'" Morrison said.

Smith added, “While we were inside, we were taking pictures by the poster in the lobby, and some ladies were going by and they thought we were in the show.”

They gave the movie a good review.

"I loved it, I’d go see it again,” said Morrison. “I thought it was sweet. It just made you feel good, like all the episodes did. Mary and I would watch them and not talk for two hours and afterwards sit back and sigh and say, ‘That was a good one.’”

Smith said, “I thought it was fabulous, and I loved seeing some of my favorite characters, Tom and Mary and Edith, and I thought they looked beautiful and was happy for all of them. And I love Mr. Bates and Anna."

She liked the way the Downton staff eventually put the overbearing visiting royal staff in their place. Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith, always had the wittiest comments and retorts. She was terrific and had the best lines, the friends agreed.

“They call it Masterpiece Theater, and I truly believe that every episode of every season was truly a masterpiece production,” Smith said. “We highly recommend going to the movie. You’ll be enthralled.”

But the friends’ viewing of the "Downton Abbey" DVDs was about more than a TV series.

“To tell you the truth,” Smith said, “it was Barbara’s way of spending time with me after I lost my husband, Marty, and was also recovering from surgery.”

It was a very meaningful experience for Morrison, too.

“It was a very special time that Mary and I got to spend together,” she said.

“To tell you the truth, it was Barbara’s way of spending time with me after I lost my husband, Marty, and was also recovering from surgery.” -- Mary Smith