Hackney Gazette’s 1997 ‘personality of the year’ Mavis Jackson turns 100
- Credit: @siornaphotography
Mavis Jackson was born nine days after the Great War ended on November 20, 1918 – making her a “peace baby” despite her grand old age of 100.
She grew up in Burma and travelled with eight of her offspring to the UK in 1957 on a ship, with the journey lasting 30 days. She settled down in Hackney and raised a large family with 14 children – with the eldest twin girls now aged 73 and the youngest boy 55.
This week the Gazette caught up with the woman who became the paper’s personality of the year in 1997, after she passed her driving test the year before aged 77.
Mavis, whose Scottish grandfather met her Burmese grandmother during the First World War, married her husband Horace in Burma. But with their Anglo-Burmese roots, Mavis, a nurse and teacher, and Horace, a fireman, found it hard to secure work.
“We were neither British or Burmese and yet the bosses were all English over there, and they were rather strict about not hiring people that weren’t English,” said Mavis, who lives in Lower Clapton. “The British ambassador advised my husband to come to England, because we weren’t going to get anywhere.” She added: “The journey was awful. It was 31 days on the ship, and we were sick. We landed in Liverpool and it was so cold, then we were brought to Dalston.”
Horace was working at Manor House Hospital as a boiler man and had already found a place to stay for Mavis and the children - the eldest being 15 and the youngest 18 months.
“When we came here I found it hard,” said Mavis who was able to work in Burma because of childcare provision over there.
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“I couldn’t work because I had two children under five. “I didn’t realise it would be the case, but I was reconciled about what had to be done - and getting used to a new life I was glad I didn’t have to go out to work. I got used to it very quickly and felt like I had lived here for years.”
With her children at Cardinal Pole School the parish priest suggested Mavis become a governor, and she took on the role for 13 years. Line dancing became a hobby and she taught classes herself – and still loves to dance now.
“My eyes are gone and my knees are not too strong, but I hold on to my daughters Gerry and Jean and try to do it,” she said. “We all do the same steps so we don’t stand on each others legs. We are going to do it on my birthday.”
In 1994 she attended evening classes and passed her GCSE German so she could correspond with three of her 42 grandchildren who live in Germany. Then in 1996 she took driving lessons and passed her test at the age of 77.
When asked at the time why she decided to take up driving at such an age, she replied: “How else will I get to evening classes without a car?”
She told the Gazette this week: “I said, ‘I’m not going to give up’ and I passed on my fourth attempt. It was thrilling for me - especially when I had the instructor next to me and there was nothing for me to worry about. She had her legs on the brakes. It was like a new life for me, I was driving all over in my little car.”
The following year she came up against several “very famous people” when she was voted the Hackney Gazette’s ‘Personality of the Year’ by our readers.
“I was up against an actress,” she remembers. “They came here and spoke to me and suddenly they made me personality of the year. People of Hackney voted for me. I got a little cup. I couldn’t believe it.”
Mavis’ secret to longevity is apparently going to church.
“I know all the congregation and they are like my family as well,” she said. “We have lots of chats, and then all my children bring their friends over. Being surrounded by people makes me feel alive,” said Mavis who has 28 great-grandchildren.
She also keeps her brain young by doing crosswords and watching TV quizzes where she excels at maths.
Sadly Horace who would have been 112 this year, died in 2001. When asked how it feels to turn 100 Mavis said: “Oh lord. I feel I’ve got so old suddenly, You get to 89, 90 but as soon as you say ‘100’ I’ve really gone old. If anyone asks me how old I am I’ll say: ‘I can’t tell you now. I’ll tell you tomorrow’.”