Centenarian waiting on King’s letter

Margaret Reid had a birthday party fit for a queen yesterday — although she is still waiting on her letter from the King.

Mrs Reid celebrated her 100th birthday at the Lake Wakatipu Care Centre with a high tea, surrounded by family, friends and fellow residents, surprised by all the fuss.

When asked how she felt about becoming one of Queenstown’s rare centenarians, she replied: "I can’t believe it, but I feel all right."

Born in a village in North Riding, Yorkshire, Mrs Reid (nee Shore), was the second eldest of four children — she had one older brother and a younger brother and sister.

"We had just one main street with the shops — and everybody knew everybody and it was very, very friendly ... it was like one big family," she said.

"I had a very happy life."

Queenstown resident Margaret Reid celebrates her 100th birthday at the Wakatipu Care Home...
Queenstown resident Margaret Reid celebrates her 100th birthday at the Wakatipu Care Home yesterday, flanked by her daughter, Marnie Reid, and granddaughter, Tanna Reid, both also of Queenstown. PHOTO: TRACEY ROXBURGH
Learning knitting and embroidery skills from a young age, courtesy of her mother and lessons at school — "in any spare time I was just making things, because in those days there was no TV to sit looking at" — she also used her spare time to go on bike rides, help out in the garden and play tennis on the court across the road from her house.

A plan to go to university, however, was scuppered in 1939 when World War 2 broke out.

At 19, Mrs Reid was called up to the Women’s Land Army, initially trained to be an aircraft inspector.

"It was quite involved ... I had to learn to file [aircraft parts] to five-thousandths of an inch."

However, she did not cope well with air raid sirens so was later moved to drive an excavator in the fields, filling in bomb craters.

"I used to get underneath the excavator when the German bombers came, because they used to machine-gun people in the fields, and I didn’t want to be machine-gunned by a German."

She also worked alongside German prisoners of war, whom she could understand.

"I used to listen to the conversations.

"They’d say, ‘I’d like her in my bed tonight’, I heard that about three times — but they were very nice."

After the war ended, in 1945, Mrs Reid took advantage of a free bus card she was given to travel extensively throughout the United Kingdom.

Firmly bitten by the travel bug, she spread her wings and travelled to Oslo, in Norway, where she learnt to speak several different languages, and then to Holland.

Daughter Marnie said her mother was a trailblazer of the time, considering in those days women did not tend to "go off on their own".

Mrs Reid then took a ship to the United States, during segregation, where she worked as a teacher for a wealthy family in Beverly Hills for a couple of years.

There she met Fred Astaire and once spotted Elvis Presley in the back of a car stopped at traffic lights beside her.

Mrs Reid said she had an option to return to the United Kingdom but "I thought it was silly to go back — I could go further on and boast about it".

She arrived in New Zealand in the mid-1950s, initially working at the Waitomo Caves and then at Molesworth Station, in Marlborough, before she arrived in Queenstown in 1957, where she worked as a housemaid at Eichardt’s hotel.

One day she was looking out a window at Eichardt’s to where the Mount Cook offices were — now home to Patagonia — and she spotted a handsome young man with "lovely wavy hair", Marnie said.

Ivan Reid, who worked for internal affairs, quickly stole her heart.

The couple married in a registry office in Queenstown about 1959 — Marnie, was born in 1962 and a son, Danny, was born in 1965.

Sadly, Ivan died in 1970, aged 52.

Tragedy struck the family again in the late 1990s when Danny was killed in a skiing accident, aged 32.

Mrs Reid was a Queenstown librarian — "it’s wise to learn to become a reader, because it opens up the world for you, even when you live in Stokesley [in Yorkshire]" — and then opened The Spider Web, a craft store on Shotover St, about 1975, later sold to weatherman, the late David Crow.

Marnie said her mother was still fit and well — until about 18 months ago she lived independently — though could get a little bit confused.

Reflecting on her century, Mrs Reid said it had been an "interesting life".

"I’d get up in the morning and think, ‘what exciting thing is going to happen today?’ — something always happened."

As to the secret to her longevity?

"Being active, I think, and eating a decent diet, and not drinking and eating the wrong things," Mrs Reid said.

Marnie, however, put it down to "stubbornness" and her Irish blood, describing her as "part Leprechaun".