A Hundred Years Young and Thriving in Grahamstown!

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Monday, 1st August 2016

I nearly fell off the pew in amazement. Recently at Holy Communion in the Anglican Cathedral it was announced that Thelma Neville was steaming up to her first century! I thought I’d misheard. The chic, sprightly little woman stood who stood up to warm applause makes the a hundred look the new eighty!

Thus it was on Friday twenty second of July,Thelma Neville completed a hundred years of life. Accordingly, she was feted at a special luncheon held at the 1820 Settlers’ Monument with devoted friends from all over the planet. How lovely in these sad uncertain times to celebrate something so positive and beautiful.

To live for a hundred years, in itself, is exceptional. More than the proverbial “...three score years and ten...”. But what truly is remarkable about this singular Grahamstonian is her vitality despite her advanced years. With her contagious sense of humour, lively interest in both local and international affairs, she remains a  big hearted senior citizen of note whose life and personality are exemplary. Those of us who are younger – i.e everyone – are well advised to take a few leaves out of Mrs Neville’s book.

She has been a serious mover and shaker all her life. Thelma Neville has notched up being a successful journalist, broadcaster, champion of women’s rights, brilliant fund raiser, community activist, author, popular historian, loving wife and friend. Utterly worthy of the honour of signing Grhamstown’s Golden Book which is accorded to outstanding citizens. Her footprints bear testimony to a versatile, inclusive intelligence, phenomenal energy, serious self discipline and an affinity for hard work. A veritable poster girl for the Protestant work ethic! Many people are born with talents, but how many actually fully realise their potential? The common denominator amongst high achievers is their propensity to roll up their sleeves and do the job at hand.

Thelma has often been described as a woman ahead of her time. I beg to differ. Rather she is very much a woman of her time, of her times! She has always been grounded therein. Thus she’s a true contemporary dealing pragmatically with the issues at stake, adapting to life’s only constant: change.

The mind can only boggle. She is someone born in the middle of the horrendous First World War, was a child in the roaring twenties, subsidised her Bachelor of Arts during the 1930s (notable for the Great Depression), lived through the WWII, apartheid South Africa, the enfranchised New South Africa , crossed the timeline of the New Millennium and is alive and kicking in 2016! Clearly no shrinking violet is our Great-Great-Grand Aunt Thelma. One thinks of her headmistress at Wynberg Girls High school commenting on Thelma’s final school report and if she had the slightest inkling of just how far her promising matriculant would go.

Many happy returns for a life so well lived. Thelma Neville: Congratulations. We say your name with tremendous pride.

Photo courtesy of Grocotts Mail - Thelma Neville and Jason Miles with her book, "More Lasting than Bronze: A Story of the 1820 Settlers' National Monument" (2014).

Written by KJ Guteridge.

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