By Michele J. Kuhn
It’s not so much the goal of getting where she’s heading that interests Mary Weir. It’s the journey.
“It’s the process that is important to me,” said Weir of Long Branch.
Weir has had a number of careers over the years: architectural designer, business owner, restaurateur, magazine cover girl, editor, author, playwright and producer and charity board member. And for the last 19 years she has been president of the Pacific Encore Performances, a musical repertory company that trains young singers to perform on the stages of the world.
“I always feel like I have some goal and then I have these little projects,” said the petite dynamo who admits to being driven and having a competitive streak.
A native of Pittsburgh with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architectural design from Penn State, Weir credits the various paths she has taken in life to “interesting opportunities.
“It does seem to me that I have ended up tripping over them,” she said.
“It seems to me that, if you see an interesting opportunity and then run with it, you can usually make it work.”
Over the years, Weir has frequently created her own interesting opportunities.
When she and her then-husband, a chemist, moved to the Two River area, she couldn’t find a job. So, she invested $4,000 in a small house in Sea Bright and restored and decorated it. That was her first restoration project, a number that now totals 53 and includes homes, estates and mansions in this region, Newport, R.I., and Palm Beach, Fla. At one time she was restoring five to eight houses a year, now that number is only one or two.
Restoration of homes – always near the water – is her favorite role of all the projects she has taken on, calling it “something that I do really well.”
One of her most noted projects was the landmark Peninsula House in Sea Bright. In 1979, she and a partner bought the then-ramshackle hotel. Mostly shuttered for 20 years and only being used as a swim club, they quickly opened The Sand Bar there. Weir eventually took over running the whole operation – from renovation, restoration and construction of the structure to managing the restaurants – with the help of a good general manager. By the time the property was sold in 1983, she had opened five restaurants and bars in the rambling building.
“It was fabulously successful,” she said. “I can hardly go anywhere without someone asking me ‘When are you going to build another P House?’ … But you only have to do that once in a lifetime.”
While running the Peninsula House was an enormous amount of work at a time that her two sons were young, she still smiles fondly when she speaks about it. “Every little thing I did at the P House touched thousands of people. It was wonderful and you feel like you could give so much to so many,” she said of the establishment, which burned down three years after she sold it.
In 1988, Weir helped her friend Frances Lear launch Lear’s magazine, a revolutionary periodical that aimed its sights clearly at a previously untapped market – women over 40. Weir, who had met Lear through a friend in the publishing world, was responsible for prepublication publicity. She was the periodical’s first cover girl and then was a contributing editor through the magazine’s demise in 1994.
In 1987, Weir enrolled her sons in a master acting class taught by Barry Henry. Henry was an opera singer, actor, international businessman and Australian native who owned a synthetic diamond company in New Jersey.
Subsequently, Henry sold the company and returned to Sydney, Australia, where he formed Pacific Opera. Around that time, Weir was curating a project for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and was in Sydney. “I realized how wonderful (the repertory company) was. I did research and found there was nothing like it in New York City so in ’99 I started it here,” she said.
Weir and Henry, who married in 2006, worked together on the project. Henry handled the creative end of the project while Weir did the work needed to run the enterprise. When Henry died in 2010, Weir took over the entire operation.
“We are a very unusual, unique musical repertory company,” Weir said. “There are 50,000 singers in New York trying to make it … We take 20 of the best with the most talent and give them scholarships … We take one out of 100 who audition for us. We give them training and performance opportunities.”
Among those opportunities is a Carnegie Hall performance in June. “For them to put that on their resume is very important,” she said. “Anywhere in the world you go and you say Carnegie Hall, everybody knows it.”
The program has given Weir great satisfaction. “I love working with the young people. It is such a wonderful gift to give to them,” Weir said of the training that, in addition to musical and performance classes, includes instruction in such areas as resume writing, hair and makeup. “I feel like I help them have the opportunity to work on the world’s stages.”
Among the experiences the students get while members of the company is the opportunity to give back to help others. Throughout their training they are asked to donate their time and talent to raise funds for a variety of charities – including the repertory company.
Pacific Encore Performances is holding its annual summer fundraising gala to benefit its educational and cultural outreach programs on Saturday, Aug. 24. Held each year at an area estate, the musicale this year, called “Music’s Most Romantic Moments,” will be held on the grand staircase at Abbey Farms, home of Abbey and Tom Kober on Montrose Road in Colts Neck. Carol Stillwell and Mary Ann Larkin are the 2013 Legacy Honorees whose work in the community will be highlighted.
“It will be an evening no one will ever forget,” Weir said.