By: CAROLINE CUNHA
MARY JO Morgan, a British expatriate who runs the established Europa Algarve language school in Loulé, was mugged walking to her car in the town centre last Thursday evening.
In a shockingly violent assault, 59-year-old Mary Jo was left with a broken nose, broken arm and fractured shoulder. Her handbag was taken, which contained 40 euros and 15 pounds sterling, as well as all her documents, asthma medication and glasses.
Mary Jo left the language school at around 9pm, slightly later than her normal finishing time. Her car was parked a two minute walk away. She was carrying her handbag and had her dog with her, a miniature Algarvean Cão D’água (Portuguese water dog).
Leaving the language school by the back exit, she walked up Rua Almeida Garrett, opposite Travessa da Matriz, a narrow road that lies between the church and the houses. Walking towards her was a well dressed man, who asked her in Portuguese if she knew the whereabouts of the post office.
Mary Jo pointed in the direction of its location, saying, “It’s over there,” and told the man that it would be closed. She doesn’t remember anything that happened after this brief conversation.
“I woke up lying on the ground with blood pooling around my head,” Mary Jo told The Resident. “I still had my dog, but my handbag had gone. I called out for help, but no-one came.”
After some time, she managed to get herself to her feet and, fortunately for her, a former secretary and friend from the language school has a house in that street. Her friend was at home and immediately called an ambulance. The police were informed of the attack and cancelled Mary Jo’s credit and debit cards.
Mary Jo told The Resident: “I saw the man very clearly due to the street lights and I didn’t have any reason to suspect anything untoward was about to happen. He was well dressed and very respectable looking. He was around five feet 10 inches tall with light brown wavy hair and a very white round shaped face.
“I think he was probably around 20-years-old. He spoke in Portuguese and didn’t seem to have a foreign accent, but with his pale skin tone and hair he certainly did not look Portuguese.”
Mary Jo has lived in Loulé since 1984 and says that she recognises most people in the area by sight. However, she says she has never seen this man before.
“I actually don’t know if I was hit from the back or the front, but I believe I was probably pushed from behind and there may well have been two people involved.”
She believes the man who spoke to her may have deliberately tried to distract her attention to aid an accomplice. “It wasn’t necessary to mug me,” she said. “I only had 40 euros in my purse and I would have handed it over.”
By coincidence, the day after the attack, one of the teachers at her language school heard a women talking in a nearby café. The lady spoke of how she had been followed down the same street by two young men around half-an-hour before the incident involving Mary Jo.
Currently, Mary Jo and her colleague are hoping that the woman can be persuaded to speak to police about her experience, as she may be able to provide useful information.
Mary Jo spent most of the weekend at Faro hospital being treated for her injuries.
A policeman was due to come to Mary Jo’s home on the day The Resident went to press to conduct a full interview. After the attack was first reported, Loulé police promised to do extra patrols around the church area. They also told Mary Jo that it is not safe for women to walk alone in Loulé at night.
“I need to try and get over the shock, I feel very weak,” Mary Jo told The Resident. “I constantly feel cold.
“I just want to rest so I can get back to school as soon as possible.” Mary Jo is relying on getting lifts to the school until she can drive again and has vowed never to walk through the streets of Loulé again.
“I decided to talk about the attack because I want to warn people to be very careful and those responsible have to be caught.”
The attack on Mary Jo has made the headlines in the Portuguese press due to her link with Portuguese Olympic medal winning athlete, Francis Obikwelu.
Obikwelu came to Mary Jo’s language school looking to learn Portuguese after being turned away by a Loulé secondary school. He was only 15 at the time and had arrived in Portugal from his native Nigeria in search of better training facilities. He was already the African champion at 100, 200 and 400 metres, but to earn a living, he had begun working on building sites in Lisbon. Shocked at his working and living conditions he came to Algarve.
Mary Jo’s son was at the language school and he and Francis began speaking in English. They quickly became firm friends, both enjoying sport. Francis spent that Christmas at the Morgan’s home.
Mary Jo helped Francis to find a sports club through one of her students, who played ice hockey for Belenense. Seeing his potential, the club took him on and legalised him in Portugal. The rest, as they say is history, as he is now a world famous athlete and a Portuguese citizen.
Obikwelu has remained in touch with Mary Jo and her son over the years and will shortly become the godfather of Mary’s Jo’s granddaughter, Sophie.
“I wasn’t his foster mother, as the Portuguese press have said, but we were good friends and he sometimes came to stay or have a meal with us.”
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