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Rugby-mad centenarian celebrates milestone in style

Not everyone gets a card from the Queen, Prime Minister and Governor-General, but not everyone is Sheila Gerrard.

Sheila turned 100 yesterday and was celebrating at home with a glass of Moët in a house flooded with flowers when The Herald came to talk.

She still goes to parties, walks about her property and makes herself tea and breakfast. She's well connected. At one point, the interview stopped because she needed to reply to friends on her tablet.

But the most important thing to know is Sheila is a fierce rugby supporter.

“I'm a sports fan. I really am. High School Old Boys, that's my club. Every Saturday. All year round.

“I'll be going next Saturday. I would have gone last weekend but I was otherwise engaged.” (Sheila was attending her birthday party at Bushmere Arms).

Covid-19 border restrictions meant family in Australia could not make it to Gisborne for the celebrations.

She's been a rugby girl for over 80 years.

“It started when I was 16. I wanted to go to a rugby match so I asked my father but he said, ‘no, no, no', Womenfolk in those days didn't go.”

So Sheila turned on the radio instead.

“I formed in my mind the 22. The goal line. The goalposts. I used to listen. Then the war came along and I was too busy doing that.”

Sheila joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in World War 2. She was posted to Woodbourne in Blenheim for three years and spent six months at the Taieri training base near Dunedin.

After the war Sheila met Bill and they married in 1949.

“If he had lived another year we would have been married 70 years,” said Sheila.

Bill passed away three years ago.

Originally a southern girl, it only took a fortnight for Sheila and her late husband Bill to fall in love with Gisborne.

The pair were on holiday from their home in Invercargill when they came to the East Coast.

Sheila has two siblings — one has passed away and her younger, 98-year-old brother, lives in Gisborne too.

Bill and Sheila had three children, Suzanne, Langley and Beth.

Beth passed away five years ago from cancer, Suzanne lives in Australia and Sheila lives with her son Langley at Makaraka.

Before their fateful visit to Gisborne Sheila and Bill lived in the South Island where Bill had taken over the family farm after his father passed away.

But he never had the heart for farming. He wanted to be a mechanic. They sold the farm in 1960 and moved to Riverton and Invercargill and Bill worked on cars. Sheila's last job was working as a receptionist in a beauty salon.

All the while, she was watching rugby.

“Look, I'm rugby-mad,” said Sheila.

“I like netball, I'm not too bad on league, and any other sport that's on, I will have a look at it but rugby's the one.”

“Even if there were two people playing a game of marbles I'd be interested.”

She tried playing netball (called basketball at the time) when she was about 17 but she says her legs gave out.

Sheila's love for rugby is not confined to New Zealand. She has been overseas multiple times to see the All Blacks play.

In 1973 she went to Scotland to see family and hoped to see a game but they were all mad about “this soccer thing”.

She had better luck in 1976 when she and her husband went to South Africa for six weeks to see the All Blacks in action.

While there the All Blacks achieved a record of 18 wins and six losses.

Sheila thanked everyone for all the wonderful gifts on her birthday.

“I'm just thankful to be alive and able to enjoy the company of people.”

RUGBY MAD: Fierce HSOB fan Sheila Gerrard holds a card from the Queen, received for her 100th birthday which she celebrated yesterday. The Prime Minister and Governor-General also sent cards, not to mention gifts and flowers from friends and family. Below, Sheila at an HSOB v Ngatapa game last year, with her son Langley (right) and Graeme Torrie. Picture supplied
BIG FAN: Centenarian Sheila Gerrard at an HSOB vs Ngatapa game last year, with her son Langley (right) and Graeme Torrie. Picture by Paul Rickard