An animal lover celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by all creatures great and small – with a surprise VIP trip to West Midland Safari & Leisure Park.
Norah Harris is well known for her love of animals so ahead of her milestone birthday next week (Monday 10 November), the team at Sanctuary Care’s Cranham Residential Care Home in Warndon arranged for her to enjoy a VIP trip to see some spectacular species at West Midland Safari & Leisure Park in Bewdley.
Yesterday morning (Thursday 6 November) Norah’s daughter Meryl Bradshaw and husband David arrived bright and early at the home to collect the birthday girl for her special treat. The day started with her feeding the Asian rhinos, giraffes and tigers before being taken to see the lions and Sutton, the park’s adorable new baby elephant. Then the birthday girl watched the sea lions being fed, went on to feed the lemurs herself before coming face-to-face with a reticulated python!
A special birthday luncheon was served in the Explorers Restaurant, complete with birthday cake and flowers.
Wendy Jackson, the park’s Public Relations Officer, said: “It was a real pleasure to welcome Norah and her family to the park today to mark the start of the celebrations for her very important birthday next week. Our VIP Guide had the time of his life! It was clear to see how much Norah loves animals. She particularly enjoyed feeding the giraffe, seeing the Indian rhino and loved looking at the elephants. It was truly a privilege to be able to spoil such a lovely and remarkable lady.”
Norah, who moved to Cranham, which provides residential care and dementia care two years ago was in her element and said: “I had a lovely time. It was smashing. I held a stick with meat on the end and fed the Bengal tigers through the pen and enjoyed every minute of - I loved it.”
Born in Birmingham to parents Francis and Mary – both originally from Ireland - Norah grew up in Selly Oak and was an only child. Her father was killed in the Battle of the Somme during the First World War when she was just two years old.
In 1936 Norah met husband-to-be Arthur on what was locally known as the Monkey Run in Selly Oak – a street where boys walked down one side and girls the other, in the hope that they might see someone who took their fancy - so it was literally love at first sight!
Norah has two daughters Meryl, who lives in Droitwich and Patricia, who sadly died over three years ago, nine months before her son William passed away.
Meryl said of her mum’s fighting spirit: “Mum has always had a fiery temper that has mellowed over the years. I think that’s the Irish blood in her!”
During the Second World War Arthur was killed in service in 1945 on the border of Germany and Holland when Meryl was just two years old. Norah’s mother helped to raise the children while she worked to make enough money to look after them. Son-in-law David joked that because of this, Norah was never ‘at home’ doing household chores.
He said: “She has never baked a cake in her life – she used to make Sunday breakfast for the family and was always burning her hands – and she never liked housework.”
David added: “She has always been a character and is absolutely mad about Paul O’Grady and loves animals to pieces. She loves it when we take our Shih Tzu dogs Tia Maria and Cherry B in to see her – she is more interested in seeing them than us!”
Speaking about how strong Norah has been throughout her life he added: “She had a mastectomy on her 75th birthday – she didn’t have any aftercare or medication – she is a tough cookie.”
When asked her secret to reaching such a great age Norah said: “It’s having a good family around me. I don’t feel any different now - my knees are tired but I have had a good life and am enjoying every day.”
Cranham’s deputy manager Karen Jeffries said: “Norah is an absolutely amazing woman – you would never believe she was 100. She is incredibly independent and is a real lady. She can be very witty and we are so happy to have her here with us.”
On her actual birthday next week, Norah will enjoy at party at the home, surrounded by her family, fellow residents and the home’s team.