KNYSNA NEWS - Three years ago, Grace McDonald made the news when she was the oldest person to be evacuated during the Knysna fires, and now, three years later, she is the first Belvidere Park resident to reach the significant age of 100 years old.
Grace's daughter, Lesley Satchel, gathered a small group of family and friends for a celebration at Belvidere Park on Friday, ahead of her mother's milestone birthday the next day, but unfortunately, the centenarian could not attend her own party due to Covid-19 protocols.
"She truly is a remarkable woman," said Satchell. "She is the first person in our family to reach 100 years of age."
Born into the Skelton family on 7 November 1920 in Retreat, Cape Town, Grace grew up in Rondebosch before leaving home at the age of 16 to move to Pretoria, which is where she met her husband-to-be, Patrick McDonald, who she married in 1942.
The two spent the WWII years together in Pretoria where Grace received training as a nurse. After the war, in 1946, the couple moved to Rondebosch where their first child, Lesley, was born two years later. Their second and last child, Alan, was born in 1950.
While the kids were growing up, Grace was a proud hands-on housewife and mother, taking particular interest in dressmaking, gardening and household sewing. Once the children were old enough to attend school, Grace took on an office job at the University of Cape Town Medical School, in the Department of Surgery.
She would meet many of the leading medical minds of the day, including heart transplant pioneer, professor Chris Barnard, for whom she typed many research papers during the early years of his work.
At age 40, Grace began her pursuit of a degree in social science at UCT, often helping the younger students with their assignments and offering transport to lectures and fieldwork. In a rare sight at any university, when Grace was in her final year at UCT, daughter Lesley was busy tackling her first year!
Two years after completing her degree, Grace and Patrick enjoyed their first overseas trip in 1966. "Once the travel bug bit her, she could not wait for the next trip," Lesley said, adding that her mother's last visit to the UK was as recent as eight years ago, at the ripe age of 92.
By 1966, Grace had become a competitive bowler and bridge player, eventually representing the Western Province bowling team. In 1969 she welcomed her first grandchild, whereafter six would follow.
The couple moved into their home in Belvidere Park when it opened in 1990 and Grace would spend the next 10 years as a social worker for Knysna-Sedgefield Hospice. In 2001, the first of Grace's 12 great-grandchildren was born. In 2008, she lost her life-long partner Patrick, who passed away at the age of 92.
As a resident of Belvidere Park for 30 years, Grace became loved and adored by all who crossed her path. "She would always ensure the park's staff carried out their duties diligently, but would also always be the first to make sure each and everyone of them received lunch, inviting them into her home at times, too," said nursing service manager Moira Scott.
In 2017, after experiencing five terrifying and traumatic consecutive evacuations during the devastating Knysna fires, Grace sadly started suffering from dementia and is now bedridden, but her story is not over yet…
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