Wisdom of a 100 year old
Jean Thrupp has lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She has voted around 25 times, fought cancer that doctors said would see her dead within a year, and raised six children - five aged under five.
When she turned triple digits on Tuesday, the red carpet went everywhere she went – including inside the cockpit of a Flystark airplane. Jean crossed another thing from her bucket list as she flew on a sightseeing tour of the Coromandel to celebrate 100 years on planet Earth.
“It was wonderful,” she enthused after landing at Pauanui Airfield from uninterrupted blue skies over a canvas of glinting sea. “I can see a lot of the islands from land but I can only see the outline of them, and from up in the air I could see them all so clearly and all the different colours of the water. I thought ‘what a beautiful place New Zealand is’.”
Jean now lives at Tairua Residential Care, where other residents had gathered outside to watch and wave at Jean’s plane, teary-eyed with excitement when she had left for Pauanui.
Some of Jean’s children joined her on the Flystark scenic flight and many more joined her for lunch in Tairua afterward, but it was just some of the partying Jean has done to celebrate her century.
“I had a big do on Labour Weekend at Whangamata and it was all go, go go. There were 71 people at the luncheon and they came from Australia, America and some came out from Thailand. I went down the Friday and came home the Tuesday and I kept going the whole time.
“Every birthday my family organise something but last year was the worst because I was having jolly scans in hospital. There’s a bit of wear and tear - It’s just amazing that I’ve lived this long,” Jean says.
Jean was born November 9, 1916 in Dunedin, and lived by St Kilda Beach. Her father worked for an Electric Power and Lighting company and was responsible for switching on the streetlights. Most of her school life was spent at Milton, south of Dunedin.
“When you left school everybody went to work at the Bruce Woollen Mill, and I worked on the looms. Mum and dad shifted to Palmerston South and that’s when things weren’t too bright, I stayed down there when they shifted and then the depression came. That’s when the rot set in.”
Her parents were born in Tasmania and her Scottish father lived until age 97. “My mother was English and my father was Scotch. He was brought up very strict and was a bit hard to communicate with but my mother was very easy to talk to. She was lovely. We didn’t take any notice of him, you know what kids are like.”
Jean’s father was made redundant and after a short time back with her parents in Palmerston South, she returned to Dunedin to work as a nanny so that she had somewhere to live. “I was only 16 then. Things were bright again. I earned 13 and four pence a week and oh I thought I was made!”
Always keen on sightseeing, Jean saved up and “wandered all over the South Island”. “Down at the glaciers was amazing, I went waitressing. I used to go somewhere that I could get a roof over my head and a meal. I wanted to be a hairdresser but it cost too much.”
Marriage was still far from her mind. “I wasn’t interested. I was out to enjoy myself. I’m very much an outdoor person, I would hike for miles and do bush walks.”
Jean joined a bush walking club later on when living in Otorohonga and would do long bush walks with the group up until she was about 90. Her other sport was outdoor bowls which she took up in 1968 and played for 26 years, travelling for the sport.
She survives her husband, Frank. “His mother introduced me to him. I had just come back from overseas to Wellington, where I was working during the war years. I was in this rooming house and his mother was managing it, and he came home and didn’t know anybody. He was a handsome man.”
They had three children under five when Jean went to the doctor and was told ‘congratulations, you’re having twins Mrs Thrupp’.
She now has 11 Grandchildren and 25 Great Grandchildren and each and every one gets a birthday card every year with a $5 note inside. She can name names but can’t put faces to them all now.
“It’s good I’ve still got my marbles. There’s nothing wrong with my marbles,” she says. Jean does crosswords and reads a lot, but doesn’t bother with the regular exercise classes held at Tairua Residential Care, preferring to do her own exercises.
During our interview, Activities Manager Trudy Lewis pops her head in to offer refreshments and, catching the tail end of the conversation, asks Jean to demonstrate her flexibility. Quick as a flash from her seat in a lazy boy chair, Jean grabs one leg by the ankle and holds it stretched up to her face.
I ask her for tips on longevity. “Don’t take any medicine doctors prescribe. Avoid them like the plague,” she offers.
“I think a lot of it is your lifestyle and your eating habits. Do you know what the best vegetable you can eat is? Parsnips. When I was 82 I had this horrendous operation because I had cancer, and they said that I only had a 50/50 chance of surviving and it’s just to give me another 12 months.
“I had a cancer book given to me and everything was steamed, nothing fried and a lot of parsnips. I followed the diet for 12 months, and when I was 83 I was back up laughing again. When you’re in a rest home you take what’s going but if I think it’s something that doesn’t agree with me I just leave it. I can live on veges, chicken and fish.”
Our conversation turns to the cards crowding Jean’s side table, including one from the Queen whom she adores, others from MPs, the Prime Minister, a hand-written card from Helen Clarke signed former Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, and a letter from the Leader of the Opposition.
“To me Andrew Little isn’t really in a position to have a personal card but he wrote a letter and it was very thoughtful. I never thought I would get all these important cards.”
Jean has never missed a vote and she has voted Labour all her life. “I’ve got a lot to thank Labour for. The Depression, when Michael Joseph Savage came into power it completely changed our life. We got a more liveable wage and they got more people into work. I think they did a lot of good.
“I think John Key is more out of the country than he is here and I don’t know if he’s spending the tax money to pay for all these trips rather than getting on with things here. There’s a lot to be sorted out here. I would say charity begins at home. I just don’t understand the housing problems. In Tauranga we moved into a brand new state house as a big family, and we lived in a state house in Wellington. Returned servicemen got state houses, but now…”
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