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Winnie Mather - Happy, healthy and 100

By Salma Yusuf - Sunday Times June 18 2006

Her silver hairs and golden memories have in no way made her less passionate about life or the earth she has walked for a hundred years.

Having celebrated her 100th birthday on April 20, Winifred Mather, or ‘Winnie’ as she is more affectionately known, is presently the only centenarian past pupil of CMS Ladies’ College. The early part of her life, especially her schooldays, remains strongly etched in her mind. After completing her schooling at Ladies’ College, she married W. E. D. Mather in 1927, and moved to Jaffna, as he worked at the then Department of Cottage Industries. The Mathers were the first to take a motor vehicle to Jaffna, which thereafter bloomed into a successful car-sales business.

‘Winnie’ Winifred Mather turned 100 on April 20 Pix by Dinuka Liyanawatta

“Jaffna in the good old days was very peaceful, and was a nice place to live in. Having seen Jaffna then and what it is now is heartbreaking,” she says. Winnie is a bank of information on Jaffna, having lived there for over 50 years after marriage.

Winnie was a full-time housewife and aesthetically inclined, her interests being playing the piano, violin and Hawaiian guitar in her younger days. Painting, flower making and tennis were among her other passions.

Having witnessed both global and local historic events such as Sri Lanka’s independence and World War II, talking to Winnie is like being given a peek into the past. “During World War II, we used to huddle with the family under our dining table, and shield ourselves by propping sand bags around us.”

“It is sad what our country has come to. Nowadays people are very materialistic and have no regard for human life,” she says regretfully.

This charming lady, despite her years, is very progressive in her thinking as emphasised by her grandniece and nephew with whom she lives in Dehiwala. “She is not old-fashioned in any way. She is very adaptable and does not insist on everything being conventional,” says her young niece.

Having no health complications is a true blessing for Winnie. The sharpness of her mind is evident in the way she clarifies a question to make sure she is giving the correct answer. Her focused, yet light hearted outlook to life strikes everyone who has the pleasure of meeting her.

Unlike many senior citizens of today, who are, sadly, alienated from society and living ‘within four walls’, Winnie is up-to-date with all the news and politics of the country. “Politicians today are quite unlike those of yesteryear, who were very gentlemanlike,” she remarks. The death of Lakshman Kadirgamar, her nephew, is also a great loss to the country, she adds.

Winnie celebrating her 100th birthday

Having been close to her religion all her life, Winnie says that she never underestimates the power of prayer. This has helped her weather all life’s challenges and experiences. She always strengthens everyone around her by stressing on the power of prayer. “Everyone of us, young and old, should never leave the house without a prayer and we will then definitely have a safe return home,” she adds.

Winnie upholds the importance of love and happiness in one’s life as she talks fondly of her late husband. “He did everything for me. I miss him dearly and think of him very often.”

Being the eldest in a family of five, this courageous lady has outlived all her siblings. She now spends her time writing letters to her relatives abroad with all the latest news in Sri Lanka from politics to family events. She still insists on making her own coffee every morning, and then reads the newspapers every day after meditation.

The Mathers on their wedding day

Winnie never fails to attend family occasions and functions and has not lost her sense of humour. Even though she doesn’t take alcohol, she would pose with a wine glass for a photograph or to participate in the making of an after dinner toast! “It has been a good life,” reflects Winnie in a pensive tone. A life without regrets is the key to being a contented person, she believes, and there is no mistaking the contentment written all over her face.

Winnie’s zest for life has not dimmed with time or age. Her warm ways are not only felt by her gentle touch on a visitor’s hand, but also the twinkle in her eyes when she looks at you when you leave, saying “hope to see you again.”