“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
On July 30, 2013, Irene Poynter will celebrate an important milestone. She will turn 100 years young. Her family joined her in a party at Queens Square Terrace in Galt on the 23rd, complete with cake, cards, flowers and special greetings from Pam Wolf on behalf of Mayor Craig and Cambridge City Councillors.
“I’m not used to all the fuss,” she says as fellow residents begin wishing her early birthday greetings and a massive cake rolls by. “I’m going to eat it all!”
A display board, filled with pictures from her past and her present, stands at the entry to her party room. A message from Queen Elizabeth II and a congratulatory note from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada also grace the board.
As she reminisces about each picture on the board, a girlish smile touches her face. “I begged my mother to have that picture taken,” she says. A black and white photo of a striking 15-year-old girl showing off a little leg stands out from the others.
Her eye wanders to a picture of a young boy with smiling parents. Irene, her husband John and their son, Andrew were still living in England at the time of the photograph. John, sadly, passed away in 1995.
A slight British accent compliments her lady-like manner. She grew up in a small village in the rural district of Thorney in the Isle of Ely County, 45 minutes north of London. Of her very early years, she recounts joining the Girl Guides at the age of nine, becoming one of the youngest in her troupe.
“All my friends were going. I wanted to go too,” she recalls pointing to herself in a faded photo from those early days.
Her Girl Guide training came into play during WWII as a volunteer with the British Red Cross Society and the St. John Ambulance Association. Special certificates were presented to her for her service from 1939 – 1945.
“I loved being with them,” she says of the Red Cross. “We used to be in uniform and march down the streets. It’s what we liked,” she says. But her duties far exceeded marching in the streets. Irene assisted people in their battered homes during this bleak time.
In 1952, John and the family had to make the difficult choice to move to Australia or Canada for his career with Perkins Engines. They decided upon Canada and after a short stint in Scarborough, they settled in Cambridge.
“It was a good move for all of us,” says Andrew. “She (Irene) felt very positive about Canada.”
Irene made Cambridge her home. Volunteering for the Cambridge Memorial Hospital’s Auxiliary is still fresh in her mind.
“I would take flowers to patients,” says Irene. “They were always so happy to see somebody.” Irene also volunteered for Meals on Wheels in Cambridge and was a volunteer librarian in Scarborough.
Her first priority, however, was taking care of her family which meant taking care of their appetites. Her culinary creations are legendary.
“Over 4.7 billion made!” Andrew jokes about her famous cheese biscuits.
Madeleine, Andrew’s wife, recalls her first get-together with Irene almost 40 years ago and can recount the menu from start to pecan tart.
“Andrew already won my heart,” she says. “But she won it again.”
Going to Granny’s for lunch with her friends was a treat for Brittany, Irene’s only grandchild. Sandwiches made into squares, pinwheels, and triangles graced the table for these tots in grade two. Each sandwich flew a tiny flag naming the tasty filling hidden inside.
“We were always made to feel special,” says Brittany.
At the age of 92, Irene joined her family for Brittany and her husband, Luke’s wedding celebration on a catamaran that sailed around the Virgin Islands.
“She can’t swim, but she loves boats,” says Luke. “We got her into a dingy and with her hat pulled down tight, the captain took her for rides.”
Brittany says that her Granny, always a proper English lady, preferred wearing dresses and skirts and never wore pants a day in her life – although she tried them on once. On this celebratory day, Irene still looks her best and twinkles as she talks about her family.
When her two great grandchildren arrive, she bends down for a birthday hug and is rewarded with little arms wrapped tightly around her neck. “I just love them,” she says.
Dorothy Brown, a friend of Irene’s and fellow resident says, “She’s a very special friend to me. I love her dearly. I’m so proud of her.”
Of her varied and exciting adventures, Irene smiles and says, “It’s been a good life.” And with a bright smile, she opens another birthday card and waits for her cake.
Memories of 1913
- An aircraft pilot accomplishes the first loop the loop
- The “Mona Lisa,” stolen from the Louvre Museum in 1911, is recovered
- The first crossword puzzle is printed in New York
Tags: Australia, cambridge city council, Cambridge Memorial Hospital, canada, Dorothy Brown, family, friends, Galt, Girl Guides, Irene Poynter, John Ambulance Association, living, Louvre Museum, Mayor Craig, New York, Pam Wolf, Perkins Engines, Red Cross, Virgin Islands, young