100 years for sporty Molly

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By John Keast

Molly Fegan goes to tennis three days a week in summer.

She hears the whoosh of racquets, the running feet.

Just five years ago, when she was 95, Mrs Fegan was on the court at the Hampstead Tennis Club.

It was her last hit around.

Two years earlier, she was still playing regularly.

Were it not for failing eyesight, she reckons she would still have a racquet in her hand.

As it is, she has life-long friends at the club, and she talks with them as play continues on court.

Mrs Fegan turned 100 on Monday and celebrated on Saturday with family and friends.

On the day of her birthday – a birthday she never thought she would reach – she stayed at home in Ashburton to receive visitors.

She, with the help of friends and her son, is able to stay in her own home, dog Rosie at her side – and ever ready to track down her walking stick if she has left it in another room.

Mrs Fegan, her southern accent still strong, was born in Dipton, where her parents had the general store.

Then the family moved, when she was 8, to Winton, then Gore, where Mrs Fegan finished school.

“Then I started work for Sergeant Dan the creamota man (the factory). When the war came I was man-powered to the woollen mill at Milton. It was there I got married.”

Her husband was Jo Fegan, of Northern Ireland, who had worked off the coast of Australia when war broke out and joined the New Zealand army.

He ended up at the woollen mill – and a romance blossomed.

They had a son, Bill, and when he was three, the family went to Jo’s family farm in County Down.

“When we got there, there was no electricity.”

Jo went to take over the farm when his father retired.

Then came tragedy.

“We were there three years when Jo had an appendix operation. He died in hospital.

By that time, Mrs Fegan had another son, Neville, just three months old.

“My one idea was to get back to New Zealand. I sold the farm to a cousin on the Fegan side and came home.”

Mrs Fegan’s mother also went to North Ireland with her.

“She was a very great comfort.”

Jo was just 47 and Mrs Fegan, with two children, settled in Ashburton, her home now for 60 years.

Because Bill had asthma, she was advised by her doctor not to settle south of Oamaru.

By the time she got to Ashburton, Neville was 15 months old.

But life’s challenges were not over for Mrs Fegan.

Bill drowned at the Rakaia mouth while whitebaiting.

“It was a difficult time for me. Neville was 17 by then.”

Mrs Fegan continued with her sport. She played a lot of tennis, competing in South Island veterans’ events, played indoor bowls and badminton.

And she credits sport for her long life.

“I’ve loved my sport. I had to give up tennis because of my eyesight. Man, do I still resent it. I still go down (to Hampstead) every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. There is always someone there I can talk to. The friendships, they are friendships for years.”

She loves motorcyles, too, and was taken for a ride on a Harley-Davidson Road King by her son’s friend, Dave, on her 92nd birthday.

Friends said it took a day or two to wipe the smile off her face.

Mrs Fegan never thought she would be 100.

“They are all talking about how much older I will be; I’m very fortunate. My health has been good.”

Mrs Fegan is not afraid to tell stories on herself.

She recalls a time when she was captain of a bowls team.

“We always had visitors. We (the local team) all arrived and there were no visitors. Everyone was looking at me – and I’d forgotten to invite them. That was the end and I decided not to be captain again.”