Nation's oldest deaf/blind woman dies

By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

Jean Burrows died just three weeks short of her 107th birthday. Photo / Thinkstock
Jean Burrows died just three weeks short of her 107th birthday. Photo / Thinkstock

One of the nation's oldest residents has died just three weeks short of her 107th birthday.

Jean Burrows was the oldest deaf and blind woman in New Zealand and the oldest resident in Buller.

Her son George said her health had deteriorated over the last six months and had worsened in the two days before her death. She passed away in her sleep at O'Conor Home on Friday morning.

Mrs Burrows was born in Westport and lived all her life in Buller. She worked as a tailoress before her marriage, then continued to sew for her family and friends. "She never lost her skills," her son said.

She had two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Her husband died 34 years ago and she lived independently until moving into the O'Conor Home 11 years ago, at the age of 96.

George Burrows said one of the reasons she moved there was the number of residents she knew. "It became a bit sad for her at the home in the finish because the people she went there for, and knew, passed away and there was a gap of 10 to 15 years between her and the eldest."

Long life runs in the family. Mrs Burrows' sister Rose Mathewson died a few weeks short of her 100th birthday. Her brother, Bud Smith, lived well into his 90s.

George Burrows said his mother's short-term memory had faded, but she had great recall for events decades back. Although classed as deaf and blind, she had not completely lost her hearing or sight. She had never smoked or drunk alcohol.

One of her prized possessions was a photo of her 100th birthday with then prime minister Helen Clark and local MP Damien O'Connor, who turned up at the home to join in her birthday celebrations.

Her granddaughter, Joanne Burrows, said Jean kept up with events. "You could still have a decent one-on-one conversation with her. She could argue politics with the best of them."

O'Conor Home general manager Susan Watson said Mrs Burrows was a "lovely lady" who "never liked a fuss".

"She was very, very matter of fact and just liked to get on with everything."

"She didn't like to accept any help, she wanted to remain independent."

Mrs Watson said Mrs Burrows' longevity had a lot to do with her independent streak.

"She was loved by everybody and she had a special place in everybody's hearts."

The other residents saw her as a mother figure, because for most she was nearly old enough to be their mother, Mrs Watson said.

Mrs Burrows was a life member of the Buller Hospital Comforts Committee and of the Westport branch of the Country Women's Institute, which she joined in 1949.

Last year she received an award from the Canterbury Deaf Blind Committee and Deaf Blind Services.

At her 106th birthday celebrations on May 30 last year, The Westport News asked how it felt to be that age. She replied she felt the same way she did the day before.

Her funeral will be held tomorrow at the Salvation Army Hall at 11am.

- The Westport News

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