Always being cheerful helps Helen reach 105

Helen Rawson, aged 105, from Oakham, with a card from the Queen
Helen Rawson, aged 105, from Oakham, with a card from the Queen
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When Helen Rawson was born in 1907 women were struggling to get the vote and transatlantic liners were plying their trade pre-Titanic.

The cheery centenarian – full name Helen Milton Chalmers Shephard Hay Rawson – celebrated her 105th birthday on Monday with a tea party at Crown House Care Home in Oakham where she now lives, having lived independently in sheltered housing in Uppingham until six months ago.

Helen also enjoyed a family party, with relatives travelling from the United States and London, at her daughter’s home, Wardley House, on Sunday.

Family members who could not make it for the special occasion spoke to Helen via computer video calls.

Born in Aberdeen and one of 12 children, Helen was the first girl to be born after seven boys. Her father worked in the granite industry for which Aberdeen is famous.

Childhood memories include sailing out from Aberdeen harbour on her grandfather’s fishing boat and not getting seasick.

A grandmother on the other side of the family, Jane Kinlock, eloped with her family’s stable groom. They were involved in a train crash which killed the groom and Jane lost a foot. She subsequenty married John Hay, Helen’s father, in 1872.

With all those brothers, Helen was a tomboy and “the happiest little girl in the world,” she says.

Two brothers died in the First World War and another brother, Bobbie, was a junior golf champion who lost his right arm while serving with the Black Watch regiment. He later worked as a caddy, having learned to play golf with just his left arm.

Helen moved south to marry a Leicester man but he died of tuberculosis before the wedding. She subsequently met her husband, Ernest and they brought up three daughters in Leicester - Ann Kanter, Jane Hooker, now of Teddington and Margaret Freeman who now lives in Massachusetts, USA.

Helen also has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren - the latest, Helena, is named after her.

Her working life was spent in ladies high fashion, working in upmarket department stores in Edinburgh, London and Leicester and advising county ladies and royalty on what they should wear.

“I worked with rich debutantes, dressing them. They were the daughters of rich men and were after rich husbands,” she said.

A sporty girl, Helen loved games, especially golf and bowls.

“But I always thought the 19th hole (the bar) - that was the best one!” she said mischievously this week. And indeed Helen only gave up enjoying a nightly tot of whisky recently.

She gave up golf in her 80s, ballrooom dancing when she was 90 and was still travelling as far away as Florida at 95.

Helen cited always being cheerful as a recipe for long life.

“I just hope I die with a smile on my face - like my grandmother,” she said.