There’s not much more the Te Awamutu centenarian wishes for as she looks back on her long and happy life.
Te Awamutu’s Jeanie McRae is 100 years old.
Jeanie was born on a farm at Whāwhārua, near Ōtorohanga, on April 9, 1918, the youngest of four children.
Her father, Peter McRae, was a Scotsman who had immigrated to New Zealand in 1882. Her mother, Mary Ethel, was a descendant of the Crosse family of Central Hawke’s Bay. The McRae family moved to Kihikihi in the early 1920s and Jeanie remembers the local children identifying themselves as “Kihikihi kids”. Jeanie attended Kihikihi Primary School and later Te Awamutu District High School (now Te Awamutu College).
Jeanie adored people and had always wanted to be a nurse. Her nursing training was initially delayed by the Great Depression in the 1930s.
She eventually completed her general and maternity training at Waikato Hospital in the early days of World War II and saw a huge demand for Plunket nurses fuelled by the post-war baby boom.
Jeanie did her Plunket training in Dunedin and became Te Awamutu’s Plunket nurse in 1946.
She loved travelling around the district visiting babies at their homes in Ōhaupō, Pirongia, Kihikihi, Pukeatua, Wharepapa and Kāwhia.
She remembers riding her bicycle to homes or catching rides in the Kāwhia Service Car and the Waikato Times car.
However, she was soon provided with a navy blue Ford Prefect and with the new-found independence could give more much-needed support to the rural mothers.
She remembers laundry being a difficult task for new mothers, with washing machines rare and driers even rarer. Jeanie says single-parent families were almost unknown.
In the mid-1950s Jeanie transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Rotorua as a staff nurse, then sister in charge of the men’s ward.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital had by then transitioned from a convalescent hospital for injured servicemen to a centre for rheumatology treatments, using the natural thermal waters in the area.
In 1957 the big OE beckoned and Jeanie sailed to the UK. During her three years abroad she travelled around Europe, fulfilling her passion for photography.
Her travels were funded by working in private homes, a rheumatic hospital and a boys’ prep school in Scotland.
Jeanie returned to New Zealand in 1960 to a Plunket nursing job in Matamata, and then in 1962 she became the matron at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
After six years in Rotorua she returned to Waikato Hospital and was sister in charge of Ryburn Nurses’ Home until her retirement in 1978 at age 60.
In her retirement she enjoyed developing her garden at her home on Cambridge Rd, travelling, playing croquet and doing photography. Jeanie moved into Freeman Court in 2001 and later to San Michele Home and Hospital in 2014 when her health deteriorated.
Throughout her long life Jeanie has retained her sense of humour and love for her family, friends and the natural world. Her interests have included gardening, crocheting, listening to music and reading newspapers and travel magazines.
Jeanie never married but stays in touch with her niece Heather Doelman, of Rotorua, and nephew Peter McRae, of Ōtorohanga.