‘‘I’m mad, quite mad you know. Oh yes, I’m a weird one. But I love it. You’ve got to make people laugh.’’
Mary Ellen Gibbs has been called ‘‘Nell’’ all her life and while she’s far from mad, she’s contagiously happy and a very active 101 years old today.
One of five children, she was born in 1915 and grew up in Echuca.
‘‘We all learned to swim off the old Adelaide, the paddle steamer,’’ Mrs Gibbs said.
‘‘I’m the worst swimmer in the world. I can’t put my head underwater... but we swam there and we had happy times.
‘‘We were always a happy family, always grateful for what you got.
‘‘I never said, oh I didn’t get that or a I wanted that. I’ve been blessed all my life.’’
Always philosophical, she married at just 19 to a fitter and turner with the railways, Colin Gibbs.
‘‘I got married to my most beautiful man on April 27, 1936, and he died a day after our 46th wedding anniversary,’’ she said.
‘‘He’s my only boy. Eventually he got cancer and lost his eye and half his face and Margaret, my only daughter, she got cancer and she passed away.
‘‘But on those things, you’ve got to realise, when you’ve had beautiful people in your life, now you might think this is ‘bulling’ but it’s not, how lucky have you been that you can recall the happy times?
‘‘And I’ll tell you something. This is God’s gospel truth. The day after Col passed away, I put two $50 notes in the back of my purse and they are still in the back of my purse. They’ve never been used. They were a security. There was no money coming in.’’
As a young married couple, the Gibbs moved to West Melbourne for Mr Gibbs to work on the railways, but after a few years, Mrs Gibbs was advised by her doctor to move back to the country because of her weak lungs, so they transferred to Benalla.
Eight decades later and Mrs Gibbs’ memory is still sharp.
She recalled the day in 1936 when she was working in a grocery in Echuca.
‘‘This particular Friday night, Mr McGrath that owned the shop came out into the shop and said, ‘Quiet please, quiet please. His Majesty the King has just passed away.’ That’s the gospel truth.’’
Young Nell was just 20 when King George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, died.
‘‘So I said little Hail Mary’s for him,’’ she said.
For the past five years Mrs Gibbs has been very happily living on her own in a semi-dependent unit at Cooinda Retirement Village, and won’t tolerate any criticism of the facility.
‘‘If anyone said a bad word about Cooinda, I’d job them!
‘‘I’m just a very lucky person. They say, why are you here? I get sick to death of it. There’s nothing wrong with me! I’ve just had two strokes, but I can still walk, and the kids bought me this thing (a walker).’’
It would seem longevity is in the genes with her grandmother making it to 104. But there is another clue.
‘‘Never drinked, never smoked, never drove a car,’’ she said.
Another quintessentially ‘‘Nell’’ characteristic is she only ever wears dresses.
‘‘Why? I hate pants. Anyway, I was born a lady!’’