Millie’s remarkable innings

Millie McComb with her son and daughter-in-law, Bruce and Janet McComb, at her Cambridge Resthaven birthday tea.

Millie McComb puts her remarkable age – an impressive 103 – down to good living, fresh vegetables, and a life spent without smoking or drinking alcohol.

“I’ve never been sick in my life,” she said. “The only time I went to hospital was when I was having my babies.”

Her delighted and proud son and daughter-in-law, Bruce and Janet McComb, reckon a fair sprinkling of ‘stubborn’ has also played a part in getting her there.  The pair joined residents at Cambridge Resthaven on Tuesday morning to share a special birthday tea – and revealed a few gems about their spirited mum in the process.

Turns out Millie still refuses to wear hearing aids, has only just resigned herself to using a walking frame and shows a fierce resistance to upgrading her glasses.  Word has it, however, that her tough resolve caves to the lure of chocolate, and her extraordinary embroidery, knitting and crochet prowess was featured in a women’s magazine last June.

That revealed that Millie’s first pair of knitting needles had been sharpened bike spokes, and that she became skilled enough to whip up a pair of baby’s bootees in just 20 minutes. Most of her knitting has been given away, either to premature babies, or others in need.  Organisations such as St John, the New Zealand Police and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter have all been on the receiving end of her generosity, as have several hospitals.

“I’ve made 4000 items,” Millie said, adding they they’ve all been carefully catalogued and listed.  Advancing stiffness in her fingers means she has reluctantly given away her beloved pastime. “I had to get rid of everything, so I wouldn’t be tempted to start again,” she smiled.

Born in Hawera in 1916, little Millicent Sykes was an eye-watering 12lb 10oz – one of a family of six children. After school, she trained at Kingseat Hospital as a psychiatric nurse, and it was while she was working there that she met her Irish-born husband, Jack McComb, who was a warden. He was planning on taking up an appointment in Africa, and persuaded Millie to marry him in time to accompany him, but World War II scuppered their plans and they remained in New Zealand. Jack joined the Air Force, and was posted to Fiji, leaving Millie at home in Auckland with their two young children – Bruce and Barbara.

Jack died of cancer after they had been married for 58 years. The same disease claimed Barbara a couple of years ago, and it was after her death that Millie moved to Cambridge to be closer to Bruce and Janet.

She may be 103, but Millie still shows interest in the world around her, follows the news on radio and through newspapers and keeps up with family; after all, there are five grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren to keep track of.

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