SaltWire E-Edition

Never fully dressed without a hat

Dentist shares some of her extensive collection with Grenfell Campus


Marina Sexton was about 13 years old when she got her first hat.

It was purple, with a big, long feather in it, and it sparked a life-long fascination with hats.

It’s grown to the point where the Norris Point dentist has amassed quite a collection. She has so many hats that she recently decided to donate some of them to the theatre program at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.

Whether it’s a trip to the theatre or grocery store or a wedding, wherever Sexton goes she has a hat on her head. It’s something she remembers her parents, Sare and Ned Sexton, doing while growing up in St. John’s. When she travels, a hat box is always part of her luggage.

Her go-tos are three waterproof fedoras, one each in blue, mustard and burgundy.

“I like the way they look and they’re great for bad hair days,” she said with a laugh.

Sexton remembers having about 20 in her collection when she moved to Norris Point about 40 years ago. She was going out and the person she was with told her she couldn’t wear a hat because people would be looking at her.

“And I said, ‘well they’re going to have to look because I’m wearing a hat.’ I wasn’t giving up my hat-wearing just because I was going to get funny looks.”

Eventually, she became known as the “hat lady” and she had requests to borrow her hats.


There are some special ones in the collection that she’ll never part with, including the red and black hat she wore while posing for artist Tina Dolter’s Sensuality of the Maturing Woman portrait series. It was sent to her by a couple from Mexico who she met through a mutual friend.

Another, which was made at The Hatter in Toronto, she got from a friend before going to a wedding in the States. Sexton has dubbed it her New York wedding hat.

Lately, she’s added a few from Portugal that she’s bought during trips there with her husband, Vince McCarthy. The couple own the Sugar Hill Inn in Norris Point and Sexton said McCarthy will never tell her that she has enough hats.

“Because he’s just as bad,” she said, adding he has a collection of his own. “It doesn’t quite rival mine.”


Sexton used to keep most of her collection in hat boxes but realized she couldn’t see them, making it easy to forget what she had.

So, her home has become almost a gallery with art installations of hats. Many are hung from hooks around her porch and others, her fancy ones, are displayed on two hat stands in her living room.

Recently, Sexton thought her collection was getting a little too big and knew there were some hats that she wasn’t wearing.

“One day I was just sitting there, and I said, ‘I’m going to get every hat that I have in this house and try it on and see what I’m keeping and what I’m not.’”

She ended up with two piles, with about 69 hats and three fascinators, some more than 30 years old, landing in the donate pile.

The keep pile had more than 70 in it, not counting the soft berets, tams and winter hats.


As she pondered where to donate her hats, she naturally thought of the theatre program.

Her family has been a supporter of the program through the Tommy Sexton Project Inc., which funds

The Tommy Sexton Triple Threat Award. The award, in honour of her brother who died of AIDS in 1993, is presented annually to a fourth-year student in the program.

Elizabeth Perry is the head of wardrobe for Grenfell’s theatre program. When she sees someone in a hat, it can be the first thing that stands out to her.

“It all depends if the person is wearing the hat or the hat is wearing them,” said Perry.

Perry had heard about Sexton’s collection and said the program was excited to learn it would be getting some of them.

“Stuff like that is hard to find here. There’s not a lot of stores for us to shop, so it’s great that we can have a lot of hats just in stock … Hats can be used in so many different ways. They can be a prop. They can be worn on the head. They can be set decoration,” said Perry.

Editor's Note

This story previously ran in The Telegram.





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