Piano man, athlete still loves a party

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 06/05/2014

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Born and bred Taranaki centenarian Ray Burt was in fine fettle at his birthday party yesterday.

Asked the quintessential question as to the secret of his longevity, Burt responded with a wide grin: "Run a mile a day."

He was loving all the attention at Telford Rest Home in New Plymouth.

"I could stand this for a while," he quipped as he jigged along to the beat of the piano player, blew out the candles on his cake and supped on a rum and Coke.

His four children, Lorraine Gordon, 78, Derek 74, Dawn, 71, and Kearrin, 62, organised a 60-strong birthday party on Saturday at his old haunt, the Fitzroy Bowling Club.

At the end of the festivities he impressed everyone with his perfect thank you speech.

"It was a beautiful little speech. He had a whale of a time," his eldest daughter said.

Yesterday New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd shook his hand and put the mayoral chain around his neck.

And it turned out a former mayor, Peter Tennent had done the same at his 90th birthday party.

A first generation New Zealander, Burt was born in Eltham on May 5 100 years ago, the son of British immigrants. He became a sharemilker, beginning his dairy farming career in Okaiawa then moving on to Manaia.

In his prime he was a prizewinning athlete, specialising in the long and high jump and taking out the West Coast championship for the high jump.

As a self-taught pianist he was also in demand as an entertainer at celebrations around the coast.

He and wife Olive shifted to New Plymouth when he was 49. He enjoyed his work at McKechnie Bros where he became the brass extrusions foreman.

Olive also lived at Telford before her death in her late 80s.

With rest home staff keen to get the party man seated for the cake-cutting, Burt had the last word: "What would you want to sit down for?"

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- Taranaki Daily News

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