Best reckoning is that there are some 500 centenarians in New Zealand. Or about 0.01% of the population. So if you’re in the 100 club, which veteran bowler Joan Porter joined a couple of weeks ago, you’re a pretty special person.
Of course her fellow club members at the Central Petone Bowling Club, the club where Joan’s been a member for the last 70 years, already know that. And turning a hundred, simply gave the club a great excuse to throw a party for Joan, and celebrate a remarkable life. “There was over 200 at the do” says long-time friend and Bowls New Zealand Board Member Brett O’Riley, “and Joan partied right to the end. She’s got more stamina than those half her age!”
Born in 1918, Joan lived in St Albans in Christchurch, before moving to Greymouth during the Depression. She married Harry in 1939, and shortly after in 1941, Harry shipped off to Egypt and Italy as a wartime ambo. Like many brides did during the war, Joan went to Waikanae to live with her in-laws until Harry returned on the hospital ship Oranje in 1946.
That was when they made the move to the Hutt where Harry set up business as a Dental Technician. That’s also where Joan and Harry started collecting a family – with two kids Marilyn and John, followed by 3 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren.
And it’s also where Harry hatched a cunning and well-worn plan, ‘sacrificing’ his old set of bowls to Joan to get her started in the sport at the Lower Hutt Ladies Bowling Club, while he ‘put up’ with mastering a new set on the Naenae Bowling Club greens.
Despite Harry’s coaxing, home life was always more important for Joan. “I was never what you call a dedicated bowler,” she recalls, “And frankly, the more I practised the worse I seemed to get.”
She can’t have been practising much. Because in 1962 Joan won her first of 17 Wellington Centre titles, pairing up with the equally formidable Jean Coulson. That was quickly followed by wins in the Wellington Centre Fours in 1964 with Jean, Marcia Beattie and another Jean (Cathcart).
But 1967 was the first of Joan’s big years, when she not only won the Wellington Centre pairs again with Jean, but they both came together to grab the pairs title in the National Open. In 1983 Jean and Joan made it the same two-peat.
“I was pretty chuffed with the win at Linwood,” laughs Joan. “We were two down on the last end, and we trailed the jack to the back of the green with our second-to-last bowl to equalise. Then we drew the last shot. I always remember the crowd leaping up and cheering with astonishment. Bowls is a funny game.”
But it wasn’t just Joan’s bowls skills that made her special.
“Joan epitomises all that is wonderful about our sport of lawn bowls,” adds Brett O’Riley. “As you would expect she’s a great technician, a great coach, but also a great club person. She’s tough. She’s very good at remainingunflustered. She’s very sporting. But best of all, she’s very gracious.”
That’s pretty special. And at the age of 100, even if Joan isn’t the oldest lawn bowler in New Zealand, or even the oldest Life Member in New Zealand, she’s certainly the oldest New Zealand representative.
Thanks for your marvellous contribution, Joan.