Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
Paeroa's oldest resident Mrs Mona Townshend celebrated her 100th birthday on January 5, 2010, with family members and friends at the Paeroa Racecourse lounge.
Her eldest son, Allan, in proposing a toast to "Mum" outlined her full and varied life in the following tribute.
Mona Jessie was born in Auckland, somewhere near the zoo, on January 5, 1910, the second of seven children, (Dorothy, Mona, Jean, Laura, Douglas, Lloyd, and Bruce), to Sarah Jane (Pike) and Joseph Spinley. Mona's closest ancestral family names include Spinley, Brewer, Ingham, Pike and Davis, all hailing from England. Mona's Dad was a "stock buyer", ie, a buyer of cattle for the meat business, who subsequently transferred to Hamilton, where Mona attended elementary school.
In 1921 Joseph Spinley and family moved to Morrinsville. Two years later, in 1923, Joseph passed away unexpectedly, at the age of 40, leaving wife Sarah to care for her seven children, whose ages ranged from 15 years (Dorothy) to 4 years (Bruce), and without the assistance of a system of social welfare that we are accustomed to today.
Somehow Sarah was able to finance the purchase of the sweetshop at the local movie theatre where for many years she toiled from 8.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m., while somehow also attending to the needs of her seven children. This enormously hard working lady even added to her workload by also opening a refreshment kiosk at the Morrinsville saleyards to meet the needs of yarders, drovers, stock and station firm representatives and local farmers.
These two enterprises only succeeded by virtue of the regular and long hours of assistance provided by her youthful family members.
The demands of the family circumstances required Mona to leave school at age 15. For the next 11 years she worked both as a clerk/book-keeper at a Morrinsville butcher shop, and in the evenings, as an usherette at the movie theatre. Her book-keeping experience would serve her will in future years.
In 1936 Mona married Maurice Beattie, a stock agent, at Morrinsville. The bridesmaid was cousin Olive Barlow (Poole), of Matamata and the bestman was Charlie Vincent of Paeroa. Maurice had been born in Paeroa in 1903, the youngest son in a family of 10 children of Irish heritage. Mona became the mother of three children: Marion, (1937), Allan (1940) and Lionel (1942).
In March, 1940, Maurice's mother, Mary Ann (nee Houlahan) passed away at the age of 79 in Paeroa, where she had resided since 1893. Her husband, Constable Frederick Beattie, who for many years had been charge of the Paeroa Police station during the hectic times of gold mining when transportation was by river and coach, had passed away in 1914 at the age 47.
Following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, all three of Mona's brothers, Douglas, Lloyd and Bruce, enlisted in the New Zealand Army to serve overseas. The year 1941 was to prove a tragic one for the Spinley family back home in Morrinsville.
In April of that year Douglas was wounded as the British forces unsuccessfully attempted to contain the Axis forces invading Greece and was evacuated to Crete where he consequently died, aged 27. Later in the year, in November, fate's heavy hand struck again with the sad news that their brother Lloyd, at the age of 25, had lost his life in Libya. Youngest brother, Bruce, fortunately survived the war, serving with the Red Cross in Italy and Yugoslavia. Later, Mona's cousin, Maurice Spinley, a member of the Air Force, was also to lose his life before the end of the war.
One can scarcely imagine the pain the Spinley family was experiencing at that time, especially mother Sarah. Sarah passed away the following year, 1942, at the age of 62, after a lifetime marked by hard toil and dedication to her children. As Mona said to me : "Mum had always been such a cheerful person. It was so sad to see—life just drained out of her"
In 1943 the Beattie family moved to Paeroa where Maurice took a position as stock agent for the Hamilton firm G. W. Vercoe and Company. The family resided at a home adjacent to the saleyards at the north end of Coronation Street. Maurice and Mona kept a prolific vegetable garden, a coop of chickens and Maurice milked a cow which was kept on a 40-acre parcel of farmland attached to the saleyards.
Paeroa stock sales were held every Monday and Mona would manage the café/tearooms when ever substitute staffing was needed. Mona was an active member of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. She served on the committees of the Paeroa Croquet Club and Paeroa Country Women's Institute, and held the office of president for one term in each organisation.
The Beattie children attended the Wood Street Primary School. Mona was employed for four years as secretary to George Gubbins, who was headmaster of the Paeroa District High School which comprised the primary (Wood Street) and secondary (Te Aroha Road) departments. Later Mona worked for many years as office secretary at the Simons Proprietary Limited's Paeroa brewery in Queen Street, with Harry May as manager.
In the early 1950s Mona and Maurice purchased a home at 15 Corbett Street in the central part of Paeroa. Two years or so later, they purchased the footwear business in Normanby Road from the estate of the late Jim Shanahan, renaming it the Step In Shoe store.
Mona and Maurice, with the occasional assistance from their children, successfully ran the business for 11 years before retiring.
During this period the Beatties were keen participants of the monthly Ceiladh dances (Scottish Country dancing) held in the Anglican Church Hall, when Messrs Evans and Whitehead, piano and drums, would provide the music. Maurice, a rugby player in his youth with the former Paeroa East Club, switched his allegiance to Paeroa West and became a regular attendee at club matches, as well as Paeroa and Thames Valley representative games.
During this time and later Mona was an active member of St. Andrew's Women's fellowship where she helped set up the regular morning tea meetings, which are still held today.
She also continued her passion for the game croquet, serving three years as club president and is the current patron and club life member.
In those days Mona was an avid reader, a regular knitter and skilled dressmaker. Regular reunions with her three sisters and her brother, Bruce, plus the many offspring were a rewarding feature of Mona's life at the time.
One of the essential characteristics of Mona's long life is her joy of socialising and establishing many friendships. Along with her husband Maurice she also maintained a keen interest in local Paeroa history. They were among the very early members of the Paeroa and District Historical Society. Close family friend and long time member of the Paeroa and Waihi Historical Societies, Nel Climie, M.B.E., (nee Donaldson), persuaded Mona to fill the then vacant position of society treasurer, a position she served for 27 years.
In the early days in office she was involved with raising funds to open the Paeroa and District Museum, in April, 1979, behind the Paeroa Public Library. She regularly hosted open days, greeted many visiting groups, and was a member of small group of members who spent many long hours looking after the museum, and its expansion into the public library in 1993. The museum is now one of Paeroa's most valuable assets.
On June 20, 1970, Maurice passed away at age 67, after experiencing a series of stokes. By the early 1970s all three Beattie children had wed: Marion to Maurice Smith, Hikutaia; Lionel to Cecilia Smith, Rotherham, England; Allan to Gillian Hutchins, London, England.
In 1972 Mona travelled to the United Kingdom to spend time with Allan and Gill in London, which included a short tour of Scotland with a side trip to Island Skye. One highlight of her time in London occurred when Mona "dropped in" at the exclusive Hurlingham Club, where a past club champion croquet player enjoyed crossing mallets with her. Later, in 1975, Mona spent a few weeks with Allan and Gill in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, helping to babysit her newly-arrived grandson, Mark.
In February 1975, Mona was to remarry, to Charles Townshend, a well-known and long-time resident of the district, thereby becoming step-mother to Gray and the late Bruce Townshend, MP. Mona and Charles thoroughly enjoyed each other's company and their mutually enhanced family circles. Their warm relationship lasted 13 years, sadly ending in April, 1989, when Charles passed away aged 86.
Mona continued to live on at the home in Taylor's Avenue and maintained an always busy life style, walking into town frequently but still driving her car at the age of 93! Family members Marion and Maurice Smith, Gray and Marie Townshend, Lionel and Cecilia Beattie, Peter, Larnie, Jasmine, and Jarrod Smith, plus her neighbours, the late Des and Eunice Wallbutton, as well as many others, called in regularly to check on her welfare.
In 2006, at the age of 96, Mona took up residence at Ohinemuri Home in Keepa Avenue, where she has lived happily since, surrounded by such friends as Flo Roberts, and the late Gladys Blair and the late Leila Alley, plus numerous other companions. Mona is ever appreciative of the kindness and attention shown her by the caring and professional staff at Ohinemuri House.
Similarly she acknowledges the excellent medical care shown to her by her local GP, Dr Harry White, and Paeroa Medical Centre staff, plus the staff at the Thames Hospital where she has had the occasional stay in recent years.
To what does one attribute Mona's longevity? She has been fortunate to enjoy generally good health over her lifetime mainly as a consequence of following a healthy lifestyle, being ever active both physically and mentally, eating good food, not smoking and only imbibing a glass or two of wine on special occasions.
One also must recognise the role of genetics, since Mona is one of several Spinley ladies who have reached a good age in the line of the notable grandma Spinley (Martha Ingham) who reached 99 years. Cousin Mavis Grant will be 102 in March and, of course, Mona's sister, Laura Downing will reach 97, also in March.
But most of all Mona has been a realist, living a life of practical common sense, always attentive to the need of her larger family, surrounding herself with good friends and serving society as best she could through her church and other activities. And let us not forget Mona's great sense of humour!
Finally, let us acknowledge Moan's own history. Given that the arrival of settlers from Europe in New Zealand commenced in the early 1800s it is worth reflecting that Mona has personally experienced roughly half of the country's modern history. This is including two world wars, the influenza pandemic, the great depression, major world-wide political changes, new relationships between Maori, Pakeha and recent immigrants, and the arrival of modern amenities such as electricity, piped water, the automobile, radio, movies, telephone, aviation, plastics, refrigerators, television, among countless others, all the way to the home computer and today's internet. A truly overwhelming century!
In January, 1990, a large number of friends and family assembled here at the Paeroa racecourse to celebrate Mona's 90th birthday. In the thank you cards was one sent by grand-daughter Katie Beattie, after the party, an invitation was included to Mona's 100th birthday. Mona you did not let us down!
Mona has played many roles in her voyage of 100 years. Each of us has been fortunate to have travelled part of the way with her. What great companion she has been to each of us.
Let us raise our glasses to Mona.
Among the many, many congratulatory letters and cards Mona received, pride of place was taken by those received from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor-General of New Zealand and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.