Newspaper Article 2018 – A century for Irene

A century for Irene

Irene Earnshaw turned 100 recently, and son Neil recollects his mum’s life. Rene was born in a nursing home in Thackeray Street, Napier on August 18, 1918, to Daisy Mary and James Samuel Tonkin. She was raised in the family home in Carnell Street and had two younger sisters Lorna and Beryl, both deceased.

Rene started her education at Nelson Park Primary School. A few years later and on her first day at Napier Technical College, the day ended abruptly when the 1931 earthquake struck. Rene’s classroom was on the top floor, the building concertinaed down and the ceiling ended up resting on the wooden desks. Men made a hole into the room from the roof. The children crawled on the floor and were hoisted free. Rene was lowered to the ground and told to make her way home. She remembers having a significant wound to her head, being dazed and seeing the large pall of smoke and dust over the town centre. The family spent the night sheltering on Napier Hill.

Their mum Daisy, the girls and Daisy’s father Tom Button were evacuated to Dannevirke for three months. Dad Jim Tonkin visited once from Napier, travelling by train once the rail lines had been repaired. Back in Napier, Rene attended Napier Girl’s High School, excelling in shorthand typing. In 1935 she was appointed a prefect, but during the year took up employment at the Public Works Department, where she progressed through the ranks, becoming head typist and private secretary to Mr Dinnie, the District Commissioner of Works.

Rene participated in activities including marching, table tennis, and a lunchtime swimming group called the 12 o’clockers. In 1936 she joined the Loyal Napier Lodge of Manchester Unity. She is a Past Noble Grand and in 2016 was awarded her 80-year membership certificate. When the world became embroiled in World War II, Rene in her role as head typist typed many secret and lengthy documents for construction of local defence fortifications and storage and requirements for explosives for use in

On another adventure

the event of invasion.

As war finished she met returned soldier Leonard George Earnshaw. They married at St. John’s Cathedral on April 14, 1947, and a move to Otane followed. Len set up Earnshaw’s Honey. Sons Geoffrey and Rodney were born in Waipawa, before a move back to Napier where Len took up a teaching role at Clive School. Daughter Rae was born in Napier and a short time later the family moved into a new house in Te Awa Avenue. Neil arrived to complete the family. Rene has 11 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

In 1963 Len took up a role as principal at Tareha School and Rene was again immersed in a small rural community which she holds links to this day through life membership of the Kaiwaka Red Cross. In 1968 Rene returned to employment in administration roles, including at Napier Girls High School. Rene was an active member of the PTA and remains a life member of the Old Girls Association. In 1974 Rene moved to work as the office administrator at the Loyal Napier Lodge office, retiring in 1992.

Rene was a loyal supporter of her husband Len when he was Grand Master of the NZ Manchester Unity. She and Len visited lodges extensively throughout New Zealand. In 2007 Rene and Len quietly recognised their 60 years of marriage before Len passed away a few months later. Rene has travelled to the UK and Europe on six occasions, has been to Canada, USA and a number of Asian countries. She has been to Crete four times to support husband Len and to take part in commemorations, the last 2016. She has regularly visited extended family and friends in Australia. Her driver licence was reluctantly handed in at 96 although she maintains she could drive safely to this day.

Rene’s secret to long life is keeping good health, an active mind and having things to look forward to. With a little help she lives in her own house and manages her own affairs. She received a card from the Queen on her birthday and celebrated with family and friends before flying to Sydney for a visit.

Photo caption – Irene Mae Earnshaw celebrates her century.

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Newspaper article

Date published

17 October 2018


Hawke's Bay Today


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