A family mourns not only the loss of a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, but also a rich connection to times long past after the death of New Zealand’s oldest woman.
Born on March 10, 1912 in Great Britain, aged 110 years and four months, Joan Edith Brennan died peacefully of dementia yesterday.
Her son, Barry Brennan, said her secret to living a long and fulfilling life is staying healthy and eating organic.
“Incredibly, at the age of 107, she was still living independently in her small apartment and growing her own vegetables. She regularly took the bus to the mall to do her shopping and grab a coffee and a muffin,” Brennan said.
Brennan said she will be remembered for her independence, caring and generous nature and strong personality.
“She was a very individual person who went her own way,” he said.
“Mum got to a point where she wasn’t living the life she wanted, she was extremely independent and never wanted to be in foster care.”
Joan’s parents lived in the Victorian era and her father, Henry William Lewis, was a sergeant in the First World War.
The last time Joan saw her father was when she was just five years old.
“She had a vivid memory of him taking her and her older sister to pantomime,” Brennan said.
Tragically, on May 4, 1917, Sergeant Lewis died of his wounds during the Battle of the Somme.
“Joan was probably one of the very last people in the world who could remember a soldier who was killed in World War I,” Brennan said.
Eight years later, Joan’s mother, Edith Mary Lewis, emigrated to Australia and then New Zealand with Joan and her sister after falling into tremendous hardship as a war widow.
In New Zealand, Joan trained as a nurse for the Karitane Hospitals, which consisted of six hospitals across the country set up by the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society to care for babies.
“[She] loved taking care of kids,” Brennan said.
In 1934, Joan was on a return voyage to Britain to work as a nanny when she met the ship’s radio operator, Thomas George Brennan.
The two married in 1937 and moved back to New Zealand, where they served the country during World War II as telegraphers keeping watch from the Portland Island lighthouse in Hawkes Bay.
“Island life back then was hard and lonely. After the war they moved to Auckland and settled in Campbells Bay, where they lived in the same house for 36 years until they moved to Selwyn Village in 1990,” Brennan said.
After the war, Joan worked most of her life as a cook, and even after she retired, she often cooked for her Rotary club, Brennan said.
Thomas died in 1998 at the age of 89. And now, 24 years later, Joan has followed him.
The two had three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.