The secret to being 99? Tea and laughs!

connollyUnited Kingdom —‘Was I behaving myself?’, Winnie asks with a mischievous grin. Winnie and her daughter Joyce are looking over some old photographs and the one in hand shows a group photo from Winnie’s 95th birthday party. Now aged 99, we believe Winnifred Connolly could be the world’s oldest person living with spina bifida.

In her own humble way, Winnie is an extraordinary woman. Born with spina bifida occulta in 1914, on the eve of the First World War, twice widowed, the mother of three children, a munitions worker during the Second World War, a grandmother to six, and great grandmother to five, it’s fair to say that Winnie has lived an incredibly full life.

As the interview proceeds, it is clear to see that Winnie’s sense of humour is a major source of her vitality. We move through accounts of school-age adventure, foreign travel stories, and precious family memories, all the time laughing loudly and reflecting on the past with fondness.

Almost in passing, Winnie recalls what she was told of the procedure to treat her spina bifida occulta. ‘They say that when I was born there was like a little pimple on my back, and that the midwife nipped it off with her nails.’ As she got older she was encouraged by an Aunt, who worked as a Sister in a local hospital, to see a consultant due to on-going back pain, but Winnie recalls, ‘My mother went crackers, oh, she went mad. She said, ‘You’re not going!’ She had a thing about hospitals; she didn’t believe in them and none of us have ever been immunised. I’ve never had a flu jab.’ After discussing the possible plans for her 100th birthday celebration next June, Winnie offers her thoughts on the secret to a long life, her answer is inevitably a canny mix of the serious and the hilarious, ‘Cups of tea! No, just behave yourself!’ [Loud laughs] ‘Don’t take life too seriously, try and help each other.’

With this, our time together ends, Winnie prepares for her regular trip to see her daughter, Doreen, in Wales and finishes her tea with Les and Joyce, her two older children, the memories of hurricanes in America and taking part in Radio 4 interviews still reverberating around the room.

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