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March 07, 2019

Emily McNamara’s Story

Emily McNamara was born 100 years ago on the 5th February 1919. From the age of six she has lived in the Lismore area of Far North NSW where she has been a lifelong contributor to the local community. She has been a volunteer with St Vincent’s de Paul for 42 years, is the longest Laurel Club (Legacy) representative on the Far North Coast and is an active member of the War Widows Association amongst other things. Her vibrant personality and independence is an example to all who know her…

When I turned 100 a few weeks ago my room was like a florist shop! My daughters came in for afternoon tea and on the weekend I had a party with more than eighty people. They came from everywhere – Sydney, Brisbane, Newcastle – and I’m still getting birthday cards in the mail. To be honest I don’t feel any different to how I felt when I moved in here (to RSL LifeCare’s Fromelles Manor, Lismore) two years ago, so I’m lucky in that way.

I was reared on a dairy farm in this area from the age of six until I married Frank just after the war. We’d met at a dance in Lismore when he came back on leave. At the time I was working for the war effort by helping to make tents for the Army boys and he was fighting in the Pacific; he was riddled with malaria both during his time there and for a long time afterwards. We married as soon as he returned in September 1945 and soon after he went to Japan with the Commonwealth Occupation Forces for two years. While he was away I kept myself busy with work and waited for him to return.

Frank and I had four beautiful daughters, but tragically he died when the youngest two were still in high school. I found myself on a war widow pension with a mortgage and four daughters still to raise, with the two youngest still in high school. I could have gone out to work but instead I decided to live on my meagre pension and stay at home to finish rearing the girls. I wanted to be there for them, to be home when they came home from school in the afternoon, to know their friends and make their care my priority. It wasn’t easy but I managed.

“I say to the nurses and carers ‘If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it!’ and they say ‘you’re quite right Emily’.”

I’ve loved being part of St Vincent’s de Paul, Legacy and the War Widows Guild, I’m their longest living member. I think they’ve all had a very important part to play in our local community. From my perspective they were so good to me when Frank passed away. Legacy used to come and visit me every month just to see how I was. They’d offer to mow my lawns, practical things like that. But I could mow my own. When my mower was playing up on me, do you know what they did? They bought me a new mower, they were so thoughtful.

I’ve always done everything I possibly can for myself. I lived on my own from when my daughters left home until only two years ago. I remember when my youngest daughter married and moved to Newcastle I was so miserable, so terribly upset for about three weeks but then I got over it. And then I got on with it.

I still make my own bed every morning, even though they tell me they’ll do it for me. I say to the nurses and carers here “If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it!” and they say “you’re quite right Emily”. I think that’s the secret to a good, long life.

Photo: Emily McNamara currently lives at Fromelles Manor,

Words: Helen Johnston

Photography: Tim Pascoe

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