Ethel marks a century

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012
Ethel Pemberton
Ethel Pemberton

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She has lived through two world wars and lost a leg, but Ethel Pemberton can still manage a trip to the pub.

The Rowena Jackson rest home resident celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday, and spent the last week checking out Invercargill bars to decide where to spend her big day.

As well as receiving birthday greetings from the Queen, the prime minister, the governor general and former prime minister Helen Clark, the centenarian said she had been "spoilt rotten" by friends and family. "I've got two drawers full of gifts."

She was also given two birthday cakes, one from the kitchen at Rowena Jackson and one made by her niece, Jennifer Bryan, who carried it all the way from Kawerau on the plane.

Among the many presents she received was a symbolic bag of marbles, which represented her still-alert mind, son Mike Pemberton said.

"The reason for the marbles is that, even though she's 100, she hasn't lost them.

"I can't put anything over her. She still growls at me. She keeps me on the straight and narrow, but, as I've got older, that narrow has been broadened a wee bit."

Originally from the North Island, Mrs Pemberton moved to Invercargill two years ago to be closer to her son.

Shifting from Rotorua was a huge, but necessary, change after her left leg was amputated to remove gangrene in her big toe, she said. However, she was enjoying life in Invercargill. "I lost my husband and when I lost my leg it was time to come down to my son."

Mrs Pemberton was born in Wellington in 1912, and moved North to Rotorua when she left school.

She started work at the Blue Baths in Rotorua shortly after World War II, climbing the ranks from nurse aid and ticket seller to manager of the pool complex.

Great-nephew Andrew Bryan said Mrs Pemberton was ahead of her time when she accepted the role of manager.

"This woman is a real trailblazer for women . . . she broke through the glass ceiling," he said.

After checking out a few establishments, Mrs Pemberton chose the Ascot Park Hotel to "wine and dine" at with her family for her birthday last night.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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