Norma Margaret Harper.
Born in Lower Hutt, January 10, 1931
Died in Levin, January 3, 2020

When well-known Levin women Norma Harper was farewelled last week, just days shy of her 89th birthday, a piece of piano music was played to the large number of people that attended her funeral.

It was fitting that the music was a recording of Mrs Harper herself playing, and to a hall full of people, as music and people had been an integral part of her life.

Mrs Harper loved company, so between practising and entertaining, the family home at the top end of Trafalgar St was always alive with music.

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Raised with her younger sister Iris on a farm in Queen St East, they grew up quickly when their mother Ida became crippled at a young age by severe rheumatoid arthritis.

Mrs Harper began playing the piano as an 8-year-old, encouraged by their father Tom Saulbrey, himself a fine singer.

She initially resisted, and would play with tears running her cheeks, but in later years loved her father for his persistence, as the piano was to bring her - and countless others - joy.

Throughout her life Mrs Harper would play for school productions, funerals and weddings, church services, rest homes, Levin Little Theatre, the Levin Performing Arts Society, the Levin and Districts Brass Band, Horowhenua Savage Club, Horowhenua Hospital, Kimberley Centre, Levin RSA - basically everywhere - and always voluntarily.

Mrs Harper worked as office secretary at both Levin School and Levin Intermediate for many years - playing piano there, too - before taking a position in the x-ray department of Horowhenua Hospital.

She also become well-known not only for her piano playing, but her tireless involvement in a wide variety of community groups like Freemasons, Probus, Music Society and Garden Club.

Known as "Normie" to her friends, she married Malcolm Harper in 1951. The couple raised their children Rob and Jan in the same Trafalgar St house that was to be the family home for more than half a century.

When Rob became an accomplished violin player, she would often join him and her father Tom as a trio in a large lounge area that Mr Harper had extended himself, purely to make more space to enjoy the music.

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At that same piano she would practise pieces of music for weeks leading into each community production or performance, to be assured her contribution was flawless.

Mrs Harper was to be widowed twice in her life. Malcolm Harper died tragically in a car accident in 1993, while she lost her second husband John Stirrat to illness seven years ago.

She was said to have a huge capacity for love and lived by the creed that nobody should be alone. And she never was, as her then 15-year-old grandson Ben took it upon himself to live with her soon after Malcolm had died.

From the old school, Mrs Harper never swore and seldom said a bad word of others. Her wardrobe was full as she took great pride in her appearance, and she also had a penchant for butterfly broaches, of which she had more than 60.

It was never her wish to go into a rest home or retirement village, and she died in her own bed at home after a short illness.

Mrs Harper's services to the community were recognised in 2002 with a Civic Award from Horowhenua District Council.

She was made a life member of the Levin Music Society, and along with father Tom was a life member and patron of the Operatic Society and Levin Performing Arts Society.

Mrs Harper is survived by her children, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.