A century of Wanganui memories

By merania.karauria@wanganuichronicle.co.nz, Merania Karauria

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Nancy Francis says she does not know where all the years have gone and has one thing planned - to "stay alive".

In Wanganui today, Mrs Francis celebrates her greatest milestone of 100 years with 85 close family and friends.

Mrs Francis was aged just 3 when she first arrived in Wanganui with her parents from Geraldine, at the time the Dublin St Bridge was being built.

She counts among her memories the years when trams were the mode of public transport in Wanganui.

The Francis family say they would hear the tram going along Alma Rd and know another one would be leaving the junction, so they had time to run down the road to catch it into town.

Mrs Francis says it's sad that Wanganui no longer has them, and was delighted to hear the Number 12 would soon be running on tracks to the Waimarie.

She and her parents lived in Aramoho when they first came to Wanganui, and she attended Aramoho School. The Wanganui Woollen Mills was once located in Aramoho and she worked there when she left school.

Mrs Francis did not have any brothers and never got to meet any boys, but like so many romances, she met her husband Owen at one of the regular dances held in Wanganui.

"The dance was in one of the rowing clubs and I was allowed to go because my older sister was going."

She said her husband lived until he was 95.

The couple enjoyed riding a motorbike with a sidecar together.

Mrs Francis says they were riding a Norton at the time Rem Fowler's Peugeot-engined Norton was winning the TT at the Isle of Man. She said she was never a scared pillion passenger. She has never held a car or motorbike licence, but did ride their Norton, though only when her husband rode pillion.

When they had a Harley and Mrs Francis was the sidecar passenger: "The first time we went around the corner we went over the gutter."

She played the euphonium in the Garrison Band, and there was many a time the couple were seen riding their Norton - Mr Francis with the euphonium on his back and Mrs Francis riding pillion.

One time Mr Francis took her for a ride on the winding Goat Valley section of SH3; she thinks it was to frighten her, but instead she enjoyed the ride.

Over the years, Mrs Francis played golf and was president of the Castlecliff Golf Club. It was not an office she enjoyed when the club held tournaments and she had to address the local and visiting players.

"I lead a quiet life and all my friends are quiet people," she says, still uncomfortable speaking about herself.

She says the 2011 Wanganui Technical College Reunion was a recent high point when she got to meet the Governor General Sir Jerry Mataparae and showed him her leaver's book with his father's autograph.

Mrs Francis still lives in her home surrounded by family, though she is independent and cooks her own meals. She says their care of her is the reason she has lived so long.

She loves to potter around the garden, tending to her rhubarb and silverbeet, and her sausage rolls and scones are legendary in the family. .

Mrs Francis keeps her quick mind active working out puzzles and doing the Chronicle crossword every morning. She loves Operatunity and attends every performance.

Today Mrs Francis's three children, nine grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild will help celebrate her 100 years.

The Tram Shed volunteers sent their best wishes to Mrs Francis today and looked forward to her again riding on the tram.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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