Palmerston North resident Sylvia Murphy turns 100

Sylvia Murphy, of Palmerston North, turned 100 on September 25. Caring for people has been central to her long life, her family says. Photo / Judith Lacy

Sylvia Murphy might be 100 but she continues to keep an eye out for her youngest child.

Dan Murphy says his mother is still giving him advice on how to dig his Palmerston North garden.

Sylvia turned 100 on September 25. Her birthday card from Queen Elizabeth arrived the day before the monarch died.

Dan had been holding onto the card to give to his mother on her big day, but kindly gave it to her earlier for the Manawatū Guardian photo shoot.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Sylvia said. The queen was a “lovely lady” she would read about in magazines.

Inside the card, the Queen expressed warm congratulations and very best wishes for an enjoyable celebration.

Dan was struggling to read the message without glasses. “Do you want mine?” Sylvia asked.

Sylvia was born at her family home in Wharehuia, near Midhirst in Taranaki. Her parents were James John and Augustus Adeline Phillips and she is the 10th of 15 children. She is the only remaining family member of her generation still alive.

Sylvia has five children, 18 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.

She lived in Taranaki until 2017 when she moved to be with her only daughter Geraldine Harvey at Pahiatua. Sylvia became a resident at Radius Peppertree in Kelvin Grove in 2019.

She married sheep farmer Barney Murphy in 1946 and they lived at Meremere, near Hawera.

Early in her marriage, she cared for her elderly mother-in-law while going on to have her first child, followed closely by twins.

Dan remembers his parents always had people staying, with Sylvia looking after neighbours’ and relatives’ children.

“Some of them we would have for weeks at a time. I’d get quite attached to them.”

Asked if she has had a happy life, Sylvia replied: “Of course I have”. A happy marriage was a big part of that.

Her advice to younger generations is “just get out and enjoy yourself, that’s all I can think of”.

Sylvia Murphy, 100, enjoys doing word searches.  Photo / Supplied
Sylvia Murphy, 100, enjoys doing word searches. Photo / Supplied

Sylvia became a widow in 1978 shortly after they had sold the family farm and retired to Hawera. She learned to play croquet and went on to win many trophies and become an umpire.

Daughter-in-law Kathleen Murphy said the sport gave Sylvia a second wind. “Croquet was like a whole new lease of life, and living in town.”

Sylvia used to do a lot of crosswords and now does word searches.

“Mum’s really competitive, she has to win,” Dan said. “She’s got a very competitive nature.”

Sylvia is profoundly deaf and uses a walker, but Dan said she is amazingly alert and doesn’t take any medication.

Until 2017, she was driving her own car and regularly would take people – often younger than her – to appointments. “She was always driving people somewhere,” Dan said.

She was a regular worshiper at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Hawera, and sang in the choir. Music has always been part of Sylvia’s life and she used to play the piano.

For years, her go-to breakfast was salmon, avocado and tomato on toast. Dan said his mother has always been a healthy eater.

“She’s never really been a sweet person, always going for the savoury,” Kathleen said.

As well as the card from the Queen, she received greetings from the Governor-General, Prime Minister, and Palmerston North MP Tangi Utikere.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

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