Cardinal blessings for Morningside centenarian

Bryne Miller with his sister Ethel, who celebrated her 100th birthday last week.

CENTENARIAN, Ethel Miller celebrated her milestone birthday on 4 October.

Ethel, who lives with her younger brother Bryne in Morningside, celebrated the day at a thanksgiving mass at St Joseph’s Church in Florida Road, surrounded by her family and friends.

Ethel has lived a satisfying life, immersing herself in charity work since a young age and for which she has been recognised by Pope John Paul II in the form of a Bene Merenti medal for good deeds, and by Wilfred Cardinal Napier, who presented her with an Apostolic Blessing on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

ALSO READ: Berea’s centenarian celebrates milestone birthday

Ethel was born in Johannesburg in 1917 at a time when a polio epidemic was sweeping across the country.

When she was three-and-a-half months old when she contracted polio and doctors recommended the family move to the coast where they believed the climate would be better for her.

“It took my dad three years to find a job and move down, ” said Bryne.

Ethel first attended St Agnes ‘ School but it was later suggested she attend Open Air School where she could get treatment. As a result of polio, she was unable to walk but this changed in 1941 when, at the age of 24, a well-known doctor managed to treat her feet and with the aid of a small caliper on her left leg and a walking stick, she was able to walk. It was the beginning of a huge change in her life.

“Ethel dedicated a lot of her life to working with the church and gradually she started working for city councillors, folding pamphlets and doing other work. She was well-known to Margaret Maytom, the first woman mayor of Durban, who even took her to the opening of provincial council in Pietermaritzburg, Durban mayor, Sydney Smith and other businessmen in Durban. She joined St Vincent de Paul, a charity organisation which helps the poor, and became president of the society, ” said Bryne.

“It was so nice to help people that needed help. If I saw people in the street who were hungry, I would be able to help get them food. In those days life was all about going out and doing things. I always gave of my time when I could and also enjoyed playing bingo and organising lunches and Christmas parties for the elderly when I was involved with Golden Hours Club, ” said Ethel.

ALSO READ: Old pupils, staff reflect on Berea Primary’s 95th birthday

Ethel recalled some of the good times in her life and spoke highly of her parents and the times they went to watch sports.

“My mom loved sports and she would take us to watch Dudley North playing cricket and always visited me in hospital. I spent a lot of time at Addington Hospital when I was young. I remember going to the bioscope and they were giving away a hamper. The man said he would give it to the woman who had seven daughters, and my mom had seven daughters! She was too shy to go up and get it so she sent one of my brothers!” she said.

When she was 92, Ethel had her ‘good’ leg amputated, and although she bounced back from the surgery with her usual strength and determination, she can no longer get up and do what she was used to doing.

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In response to what she did now to keep busy, Ethel responded that she now spent time feeling sorry for herself!

“Ethel has always lived an active life and the biggest problem with not being able to get around now is feeling depressed. We have a DVD of the Sound of Music and she loves to watch this and listen to Julie Andrews’ music. We always enjoyed music when we were growing up,” said Bryne.

Ethel has outlived most of her family, with Bryne and her sister Angela Billingham her only surviving siblings. She said her eldest sister died at the age of 95 and her father was a stone’s throw away from celebrating his 98th birthday when he died, so longevity runs in the family.

When asked if she thought she would live long enough to celebrate her 100th birthday, she said she was looking forward to the next 100! “Ethel is just looking forward to her next birthday!” laughed Bryne.


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Lauren Walford

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