Thelma Neville turns 101, proving she’s ‘more lasting than bronze’

Thelma Neville, the feisty Grahamstown journalist, author and fundraiser for the Monument building, has celebrated her 101st birthday party in style.

LIFE’S A PARTY: Feisty Grahamstown journalist , author , and arts and culture fundraiser Thelma Neville celebrates her 101st birthday in style. Picture: MIKE LOEWE

On Saturday morning, she entertained guests who included academics, journalists, business people and family from East London in a grand dining room at Brookshaw Home – all set with her own crockery obtained by friends led by Monika Gaybba.

Neville, who was forced to leave her home to get 24-hour frail care, had herself rolled out in a wheelchair to the patio where, in bright winter’s sun, and wearing her plastic party tiara, she fired up an unhealthy smoke and seemed to enjoy her 101-year-old moment.

She laughed and chatted with Monument executive director Louisa Clayton.

Neville filed regularly for the Daily Dispatch and SABC over a 40-year career and wrote her final columns for community weekly Makana Moon in 2012 when she was 96.

Her style remained relevant: she was an ardent believer in the right of women to be emancipated and to fight for equality in society.

Her greatest hour was when she raised millions at the request of Rhodes English activist and poet Professor Guy Butler in the 60s and early 70s.

In her book More Lasting than Bronze, Neville tells the formal story of how an active Monument, which would be home to the National Arts Festival for 43 years, was erected.

Friends, however, quipped the book should now be titled: Thelma Neville: More Lasting Than Bronze.

Last year she was a driving force behind her big bash which was attended by Grahamstown’s intelligentsia, among them judges, authors, musicians, journalists, academics and business figures. She crowned the event by taking to the dance floor and waltzing with her brother Vaughan Thorndike while the band played The Blue Danube by Strauss.

Many had travelled from afar to attend.

This year it was tea, cakes and, then at noon, wine.

Neville was described in a speech from by her close friend, Rhodes University anthropology professor emeritus Mike Whisson, as a wonderful woman, but an even better “chum”.

Neville slipped away from the party to take a rest, but a friend announced she had left her guests with the message: “Enjoy the party!” — mikel@dispatch.co.za

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