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Centenarian still a ray of sunshine


When six-year-old Nora Kelly wrote to children’s columnist ‘Wattle Blossom’ to apply for membership of The Southern Cross newspaper’s Sunshine Club in 1928, little did she know that 94 years later she would still be an avid reader of the Catholic publication.

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When Nora celebrated her 100th birthday last month, her children dug out her letter published on the children’s page, which they located through the Trove archival website.

Nora Kelly

Son John, who recently published a poetry book and was a teacher for many years in Catholic schools, said his mother still reads The Southern Cross from her residence at Resthaven, Leabrook, to which she moved from Glengowrie four years ago.

Fittingly, a friend of John’s had suggested Nora’s birthday was worthy of coverage in this newspaper. Nora’s six children and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren were able to join her in celebrating her milestone, despite the modified visiting arrangements.

Nora, with her husband Joe (deceased), has six children – Des, John, Fr Brendan (a Jesuit and currently rector at Sevenhill), Michael, Mary and Peter. They put together the following tribute to their beloved Mum:

Nora Josephine was born in Gawler on January 19 1922, one of 10 children of Francis and Bridget McGahan.

Their families, like many Irish people, came to Australia after the Great Famine (1845-1852).

Nora and her sisters travelled from Smithfield every day to school in Gawler, arranging when they could a ride with the local milkman on his horse and cart, (known as Shanks’ pony), where they were taught by the Good Samaritan Sisters. Nora assisted her mother with the growing family in their home on Redbanks Road, Willaston. Her father did seasonal farm work, bred and raced greyhounds, and ran in sprint events on the country and city footrace circuit.

In 1944, in the Church of St Peter and Paul, Gawler, Nora married Michael (Joe) Kelly who rode his Norton motorbike from St Leonards to Willaston most weekends for two years, finally proposing to Nora on the scenic Willaston Bridge. As newlyweds the young couple set up house in Adelaide, living briefly in Royston Park, then Grote Street, before settling into what was to be the Kelly family home at Maylands as their children arrived in steady succession.

When word of Nora’s maternal and domestic skills passed around the neighbourhood, it became common for local mothers in the workforce to leave their children in her care during the day. Over these years, she was also very active in tuck shop duties at St Joseph’s Memorial, St Joseph’s Payneham, Mary MacKillop College and St Ignatius’ College. Her cakes, jelly and custards in cones, and toffee apples were legendary at school fetes, as were Joe’s homemade painted billboards that advertised school and parish functions.

They were staunch supporters of the St Peters YCW and Old Ignatians Football clubs in the winter season and worked together on extensions to the Maylands home as the immediate family grew, including Joe’s elderly widowed mother, Nellie.

They were a creative, supportive team in everything, including their lasting friendships with Fr James Kelly, parish priest of the Church of the Holy Name, St Peters; and, through their children’s schooling, the Sisters of St Joseph at Kensington convent and the Jesuit priests and Brothers at St Ignatius Norwood and Athelstone.

In 1971, after working in Adelaide’s Imperial and Red Lion hotels, Joe was offered the management of the Majestic Hotel in King William Street, one of several Leahy Hospitality Hotels in South Australia. With Des, John and Brendan having left home, Michael, Mary and Peter moved from suburban Maylands with their parents into The Majestic.

Joe handled stocks, maintenance and staffing; Nora, accommodation, the dining room and kitchen. Under their supervision and service, the city hotel became a very popular and successful enterprise, and its balcony a coveted spot for viewing the annual Christmas pageant.

On retirement in 1979, they moved to Glengowrie, where they were in regular demand by their grandchildren for sleep-overs. Having left Norwood, they became part of the Glenelg parish, renewing many acquaintances with friends from Joe’s days at St Leonards.

When Joe died on September 16 1999, Nora chose to remain in their Glengowrie maisonette, keeping herself active by continuing to welcome her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and tending devotedly to her backyard staked tomatoes and beautiful front yard roses. Into her nineties, she took daily walks around the block and caught the tram to Jetty Road to do her weekly shopping.

Nora was well known and appreciated by many neighbours. She spent hours visiting relatives and elderly friends in hospital, and attending their funerals. Her home was always a welcoming place with a ready cup of tea and a homemade biscuit or cake, and a roast for guests on special occasions; and she would always find a lolly or two for small neighbouring children who regularly rang her door bell to say: “Hello, Mrs.”

With her friend, Margaret Dare, she would sometimes have lunch at the Morphettville Racecourse, on one such outing having a dollar on a Bart Cummings horse which won at rare odds of 60/1.

At Leabrook, her rosary is never far from reach, and she looks forward every Sunday to receiving Holy Communion.


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