From tiny babies, mighty Kiwis grow

By Beck Vass

Lena Ray, 108 today, is among the country's most senior citizens. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lena Ray, 108 today, is among the country's most senior citizens. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When Lena Ray was born she weighed just 2.5lb (1.13kg) and was never expected to live.

And, although she stayed tiny throughout her life, the former Taranaki woman defies the odds again today by turning 108.

Statistics New Zealand has only basic information on age from the last Census so it can only confirm Mrs Ray is one of the oldest people in the country.

While many will be impressed by her longevity, the very sprightly Mrs Ray isn't fussed a bit.

"I don't care if I am anyway, what does it matter?"

She has no secrets to share on staying alive so long. "I say rough it," she said.

"Because I've had to rough it. I have no way of telling anyone how to live a long time. That's in God's hands. You've got to be tough in this world and by Jove, I've been tough."

Growing up there was no telephone communications and transport was by horse or "rough and ready" bullock wagons - carts pulled by cattle.

"There were no such things as cars or anything like that. The roads were just being made."

Mrs Ray's father managed the workers building the main trunk railway line and the family lived in tents in rural Taranaki.

Mrs Ray was the youngest child of four - "the scruffiest little thing". "I was one of the most delicate little girls that you could ever come up against. My life was given up ... they never thought I'd live - and here she is still," she said triumphantly.

Mrs Ray's only son, Adrian, passed away several years ago. She has three grandsons, a granddaughter who died last year, four great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Her husband Robert died in 1998.

Asked how she felt about celebrating the milestone birthday, Mrs Ray said: "Rotten. It's too old - too long to live as far as I'm concerned. All your loved ones have gone ahead and you're amongst a younger generation. Lovely people and very kind but of course, not familiar with an old timer's way."

But she has no complaints.

"I've had a wonderful life - a most wonderful life. Money was nothing. You talk about being short of money today [but] you couldn't buy things because there was nothing to buy. You had to do things."

Her grandfather was John Shakespeare, after whom Milford's Shakespeare Rd on the North Shore was named.

The staff at Te Mana Village in Birkdale, where Mrs Ray lives, affectionately call her Nana Ray and are fond of her animated story-telling and jokes. "She's absolutely as sharp as a tack," one said.

IN 1902

* The Pacific telegraph cable begins operating between New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.
* The Boers and the British sign peace treaty, ending the Second Boer War in South Africa.
* Electric Theatre, the first film theatre in the United States, opens in Los Angeles, California.

- NZ Herald

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