Beet’s first-class century
Centuries are nothing new in the life of Beet Chapman – sister of former New Zealand cricket captain Tom Lowry and wife of Percy Chapman, an English skipper. Now she’s scored one of her own, writes MARTY SHARPE.
Centenarian Beet Chapman (nee Lowry), is a reluctant interviewee.
“I don’t like being interviewed at all. But I suppose you’re not 100 everyday, are you?”, she concedes.
Beet’s official birthday is next Wednesday, but given that more than 400 relatives arrived at Okawa to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Lowry family’s farm yesterday, the festivities started last night.
Sitting in the shade of the Okawa homestead, west of Hastings, and looking out over the immaculate grounds and the huge marquee that will soon house the celebrations, Beet appears apprehensive at the prospect of being the centre of attention.
But it’s not a new experience for her.
In 1930, she was the only woman to accompany the English cricket team’s tour of South Africa and in 1943 she spent nine weeks as the only woman on a troopship carrying 3000 soldiers from England to Egypt.
The first occurred because she was married to the captain of the English cricket team, Percy Chapman and the second because she worked for the YMCA, caring for New Zealand troops in Maadi Camp.
Life has been a rich and varied wicket for Beet, and it’s clear that trying to recount instances of it for a pesky journalist is barely going to scratch its surface.
She points to two large trees, a cypress and an oak, and says she remembers them as a girl. The others, equally large, are all “new”.
Beet, her three brothers and sister, were born and raised at Okawa. Shortly after World War One, the family moved to England, and Beet studied piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music.
In England the family was reunited with the eldest son, Tom, who had flown for the Royal Air Force in the war. Tom, like his father Harry, was a talented cricketer, and in 1930 he captained New Zealand in its first test match.
Cricket has featured large in Beet’s life. Her father, who captained the Hawke’s Bay team, turned one of Okawa’s paddocks into an oval, naming it “The Grove”. He imported a coach from England to teach the regional team and his own sons.
Beet’s marrying the captain of the English cricket team in 1925 must have seemed fitting for the Lowrys.
The couple lived in Hythe, Kent, where Percy played first-class cricket, and Beet toured with the Kent and England teams regularly, until the couple divorced in the 1930s.
It was in Kent, shortly before the Battle of Britain, that Beet began working for the YMCA, driving a mobile canteen to nearby troops and airfields.
After the war, she returned to Hawke’s Bay and lived in Havelock North. An ardent sportswoman, she captained the Napier Women’s Golf Club, and remains a keen critic of the New Zealand cricketers.
Of the recent player strike, Beet says the players are “pretty lucky” to be paid as much as they are.
“They’re not really world beaters are they? But I suppose the world’s a more dangerous place now, and perhaps they should be paid well to travel as they do,” Beet says.
A century of living is a good knock, and looking back, Beet says hers has been happy and eventful.
“I’ve loved my life in New Zealand. I never thought I’d come back. I don’t think I’d swap much. But if I had never travelled I think I’d regret that,” she says.
Yes, Beet recommends living to 100 to anyone, “provided you still have your marbles”
Photo caption – BEET CHAPMAN – celebrating her 100th birthday this weekend with family at Okawa, the family home.