The Daily Telegraph, Saturday, March 26, 1977 THREE
DIGNIFIED, CHARMING – AND 105
IN FOCUS With Terry Tacon
To be suddenly asked whether you believe in ghosts is a little startling, but when the question comes from someone who is 104 years old, the effect leaves you completely dumbfounded.
This was my experience this week when I visited Mrs C. E. Turner-Williams, Te Mata Road, Havelock North, who is to celebrate her 105th birthday on Monday.
Having been impressed by Mrs Turner-Williams’ memory when I met her some years ago, when she was in her 90s, I was interested to hear some more of her reminiscences.
However, Mrs Turner-Williams’ great age has finally caught up with her. In the past year she has become increasingly frail and now spends most of her days resting quietly.
But vestiges of that marvellous memory are still there, as I discovered when she came out with that question about ghosts.
She told me of a home in Havelock North in which she lived when she came to New Zealand with her husband in 1919 being haunted.
“Yes, it was haunted,” she affirmed. “We would hear footsteps at night when there was no-one there. Old Mr Mason Chambers heard of it and told a friend of his who was interested in such things.
“This gentleman asked if his sister from Wellington could come to the house. We said she could and she came and sat for several hours in the hallway, on her own. When she left she took the spirit with her – we never heard the footsteps again.”
The ghost story served to trigger memories and was the start of a delightful visit with this charming centenarian, matriarch of one of the most distinguished New Zealand pioneer families.
She treated me then with snippets of her girlhood in Kilmarnock, Scotland, when she can recall her first visit to a church – and her strident attempts at joining in the singing – and some of the highlights of her full life.
Things like the voyage to this country with her New Zealand-born husband and the setting up of a home on their arrival.
It was a decision which she had never regretted, she confessed.
And to sit with Mrs Turner-Williams in her magnificent old Havelock North home, surrounded by her treasures – each of them a memory in itself – is to understand how she was able to accept the transition without remorse.
Some of those treasures – and antique fanciers would certainly rate them so – recall her early life. Like the noble black and gold grandfather clock, discovered by her father beneath a coat of whitewash, she told me. Or the oak chest which was a cherished possession of her mother’s.
Other artefacts recall some of the groups with which she had major associations in New Zealand, such as the Country Women’s Institute, of which she was a co-founder, and the Maori section of that popular movement.
It adds up to an indication of a full, interesting life – an observation with which Mrs Turner- Williams readily agrees.
“Yes, I have enjoyed my life and I still enjoy it, although I live very quietly now.”
But she lives with the quietness and the frailty with a dignity and lack of complaint which never ceases to impress those who care for her.
And there is that still-sharp mind to suddenly dart out a question to those who might think her years might have exhausted her intellect.
Photo caption – CHARMING Hawke’s Bay centenarian, Mrs C. E. Turner-Williams, pictured in the garden of her Havelock North home. She celebrates her 105th birthday on Monday.