Sheer determination and having a good sense of humour have helped to keep a 101-year-old grandmother of 26 young at heart.
Born in 1914 on a doorstep in Selly Oak, Beatie Johnson has celebrated her milestone birthday yesterday (6 July) at Sanctuary Care’s The Beeches Residential Care Home in Northfield, where she has lived for three years.
Secrets to reaching 101
When asked her secret to reaching such a great age the centenarian said being “young at heart” and “laughing and joking with the other residents”.
Birmingham born and bred
After being born on the doorstep of her parents’ home after her mother Alice unexpectedly went into labour, Beatie has lived in Birmingham all her life, with family origins dating back to the city from the 1700s.
The birthday girl had a tough childhood - her mother had tuberculosis and spent a lot of time in hospital.
The family lived at Allen’s Farm, just a few hundred yards from where The Beeches now stands.
Raised by her grandparents
Alice sadly died when Beatie was just nine years old. She and her younger sister Nellie were brought up by different sets of grandparents. Beatie lived with her paternal grandparents John and Esther, whom she was incredibly close to – especially her grandfather who spoilt her.
The girls’ father John remarried and they gained a half-sister, Freda.
At the age of 14 Beatie started work at Harbourne’s Chad Valley factory, making Christmas crackers and painting toys.
In May 1940 she wed Geoff Obrey, who she had grown up around the corner from and the couple lived in Selly Oak.
Surviving a bomb blast
During the war she miraculously survived a bomb blast on their Hubert Road home. Thankfully Beatie had taken refuge in the bomb shelter down the garden when the blast destroyed several houses in the street.
She said: “I never like talking about the war because there are too many memories. I do remember the houses next door being bombed and it blew the roof off our house. I had to move out for six months.”
Son David, who was born a few months later in August 1941, said Beatie brought him up single-handedly during this tough time while his father was serving with the army in India and the Far East.
David puts her secret to reaching such a great age down to her dogged determination.
“She’s a very strong willed lady and I think that’s what’s kept her going,” he said. “That’s got her through all the adversities in her life and has helped her struggle on bravely. She’s a real survivor.
“My dad was in the army so was missing for five years while he was serving in India so she had to bring me up during the war on only 10 shillings a week.”
Family has always come first
Even though life was tough for the centenarian she always put her family and her son first.
David added: “She absolutely idolised me and looked after me very well. She was a superb cook and made wonderful stews and splendid cakes.”
Sadly the couple’s second son Clive was born prematurely in 1944 and died at just four days old.
Finding love again
After Geoff died in 1979, Beatie found happiness again, marrying childhood friend Leslie Johnson and gaining a stepson Roy.
David said: “They had a very happy marriage – the 15 years she spent with Leslie were the best years of her life. They idolised each other.”
Describing his mother and his childhood he added: “I went everywhere with her and we were very close. She was very, very protective and I couldn’t have asked for a mother that was more caring and loving.”
Michelle Pilgrim, deputy manager at The Beeches, which provides dementia and residential care, said: “Beatie is an incredibly inspirational lady and we are so proud to have celebrated such a special birthday with her. She is living proof that if you are determined you can achieve anything you want.”