Mary Stephens ran a successful kennels and stud farm on her estate Torne in southern Småland. In the mid-1900s, her Kennel af Tornö contributed to conservation of the races Smaland Hound and Swedish Lapphund.
Mary Stephens was born in 1882, the middle daughter of three. Their father was Joseph Stephens, the works owner at Huseby works, also a member of parliament, and his wife Elisabeth, née Kreüger. She was the granddaughter of Professor George Stephens, a language researcher. Her sisters were Florence Stephens, known as the Damsel of Huseby, and Maggie (Margreth Hedvig Ingegerd Stephens) at Ålshult manor estate.
She grew up on the family’s estate in Småland and in Stockholm, especially while their father was a member of parliament. Mary Stephens was not given any formal education but was taught at home by governesses. When she was only 19 years old, she married the naval captain Gunnar Liepe who was twice as old as she. He later became a Commander-in-Chief. The family lived in Stockholm until 1906, after which they moved to the naval city of Karlskrona where they lived until the autumn of 1911. Then they moved back to the region of Stockholm and lived there until they separated in the autumn of 1921. Mary Stephens moved back to Småland and settled down on one of the farms in her father’s works complex. The divorce came through in 1923. Gunnar and Mary Stephens had no children and particularly during the first years of their marriage, she was in very frail health. During the years before the first world war, and after her divorce, she travelled to bathing resorts and spas all over Europe.
Mary Stephens loved animals and always had animals of various kinds: birds, mice, goats and above all dogs. After moving to Torne, she started an enterprise to breed dogs and horses. She was however dependent upon support from her father, which she also had been during her marriage. On her father’s death in 1934, she inherited Torne that also included Lästad and Vevik. In 1959, the estate was augmented by Oby that she bought from her sister Florence. Her kennels and stud farm were successful. In the 1960s, the kennels had about 100 dogs and at the same time, the stud farm was described at Sweden’s largest that was privately owned.
Mary Stephens was a creative and artistic person with a great interest in nature and hunting. She united these interests in the authorship of the book Vildmarkens rovriddare, published in 1930. The main character in the book is a fox and the book’s story is seen through that animal’s eyes. During the later 1930s, Mary Stephens was active in local politics in Västra Torsås municipal district (now part of Alvesta) as a member of the town council and member of the district care board and temperance committee. Land near Lake Åsnen that she donated to the forestry board at the end of the 1950s was included in the Åsnen national park, created in 2018.
The end of the 1950s was otherwise turbulent. Their older sister Florence’s neglect of Huseby works led to her being declared incapacitated in 1957 while her younger sister Maggie’s death and will in March 1958 led to a legal conflict, since the sisters contested that Maggie had willed most of her fortune to her physician. The conflict ended in a settlement.
None of the sisters had any children but at the age of 97, Mary Stephens adopted Anders Ericson who was then 53 years old. She had considered him as her foster son but avoided formalising the relationship on account of the risk of “things being written” in the press. When Mary Stephens died in 1985, at 103 years of age, he was her main heir. She is buried in Västra Torsås Cemetery. In the Huseby archive at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Mary Stephens’ remaining letters to her family members have been preserved and also letters to her. Of her family, she was the most diligent correspondent but also the one who least often kept the letters she had been sent.