Many memories shared
Cracking a hundred may have been a challenge in her cricketing days but now Eileen Handley has seen in a different kind of century.
Last Saturday, the Matamata resident celebrated her 100th birthday at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Hall with more than 100 family and friends.
With her six kids and most of her 21 grandchildren and 27 greatgrandchildren there, some travelling from as far as Australia, there were plenty of stories to share.
‘‘We got the chance to tell some of the funny stories we remember about Mum from when we were kids,’’ said daughter Wendy.
‘‘ Like when she used to chase us around the house with a ruler when we were naughty, or when she would join in with our water fights.’’
There were also cards from the Queen, the Governor General and the Prime Minister to open.
Born on August 31, 1912, Eileen grew up on the Allison family farm in Taihoa, where she attended the local school.
She and her older brother Ernie used to run across the paddock to classes, which were held at the Taihoa Hall.
Even though she was ‘‘ a little bit little,’’ Eileen loved sport and played cricket for the school team.
‘‘I can remember playing against Te Aroha and the bus we were in had a habit of breaking down.
‘‘We ended up walking for miles, with all our gear, to get to the game. But we did win, so it was worth it in the end.’’
When her father died in 1924, the family moved to Matamata and the family farm was leased until Ernie was old enough to take over.
After leaving school, Eileen worked in Matamata and was a member of the St John nursing division.
In 1944, she met Jack Handley, a friend of her brother’s, and the following year they were married in the Presbyterian Church in Matamata.
The couple settled in to work on the Handley family farm on Tower Rd and eleven months later their first son Ted was born.
When Ted was seven months old, Jack was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent seven months in Waikato Hospital.
Afterwards, doctors recommended they move to Whangamata while Jack recovered and it was there that Jack started a taxi business.
‘‘It was the first taxi in Whangamata,’’ said Eileen. ‘‘We had no electricity and no radio phones. When Jack left home I had no idea when I would see him again.’’
In 1950, they returned to Matamata and started a taxi service here, eventually owning three taxis and a modern RT system. As well as running the business, Jack and Eileen were raising six children and were active members of the com- munity. ‘‘ We were kept very busy but we wouldn’t have had it any other way,’’ said Eileen.
When Jack retired, the couple spent a lot of time playing bowls together for the Matamata Bowling Club.
In 1975, they were on their way back from a tournament in Tauranga with another couple, when a car crossed the centre line and hit them head on near Waihou Bridge.
Jack suffered major internal injuries and ten days later died in Waikato Hospital.
While Eileen was devastated, she was determined to keep her independence and at age 64 she got her driver’s licence, which she kept until she was 89.
‘‘She would drive everywhere in her little Corolla,’’ said daughter Allison.
‘‘Then eventually she traded it in for her red scooter, which she called Charlie, because she felt like a Charlie riding around in it.’’
Eileen kept busy with interests such as the Matamata Historical Society and the Centennial Drive Committee.
Over the years, she kept scrapbooks charting Matamata’s history and Allison said that not many people would know more about the town than she would.
She remains a sports fan and follows the All Blacks and the Silver Ferns.
‘‘The thing is with Mum, here she is at 100 years old and she still remains cheerful,’’ said Wendy. ‘‘She still has such an interest in life and what’s going on.’’
Family: Eileen pictured with her six children, from left, Wendy, Ian, Ted, Allison, Anne and Suzanne at her 100th birthday celebration.
Arriving in style: Eileen driving her red scooter ‘‘Charlie’’ to the entrance of the hall where her party was held.