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105-year-old Zerna's secret? No husband, no kids, no fags and no booze

By Cate McCurry

Published 24/10/2015

Zerna Pake celebrates her 105th birthday with her niece Doris Clyde
Zerna Pake celebrates her 105th birthday with her niece Doris Clyde
Zerna Pake reading her favourite newspaper yesterday afternoon

Born in 1910, the same year that King Edward VII died following a reign of nine years, Belfast woman Zerna Pake's life has spanned almost 11 decades.

And she reaches another milestone tomorrow when she celebrates her 105th birthday.

She was two when the Belfast-built Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, has lived through two World Wars, and seen the birth of television and space travel.

Surrounded by family and friends at the Mount Lens Care Home in east Belfast yesterday, she admitted that the secret to her long, happy life was that she was never married nor had children, and she never drank or smoked, but always kept a good sense of humour.

Clasping her second birthday card from the Queen at the nursing home where she has been a resident for the last five years, her niece Doris recalled how her aunt saved her life when she and her twin brother were born.

In the days before the NHS, Miss Pake played a vital role when the twins were born prematurely at their home in September 1940.

"She weighed 3lb 5 ounces and her brother Dessy weighed 2lb 5 ounces," she explained. "A makeshift bed was made for them using a wooden drawer and some blankets. I helped my sister to look after them. The pair were so weak they were fed milk through the nib of a fountain pen."

Doris added: "Without Zerna's help we would not have had a life.

"Eventually we grew stronger with the love and support of our family.

"My twin brother Dessy helped to support and take care of Zerna and her brother Jim until Dessy passed away in January 2010.

"It was a few months after his death that Zerna's brother Jim passed away at the age of 96. Zerma then moved from her home in Stormont Park to Mount Lens Nursing Home a few months before her 100th birthday."

Described as an "orderly housekeeper, a fantastic cook and baker", she enjoyed entertaining her friends and family and was famed for her Christmas cakes.

Holidays were spent with Jim travelling to Switzerland, Scotland and England.

She maintained a strong Christian faith and is a proud member of Knock Methodist Church.

Although she turns 105 tomorrow, she celebrated her birthday in style yesterday surrounded by family and friends.

Staff and fellow residents of Mount Lens Care Home threw her a party to mark the special occasion, including birthday cake and afternoon tea, gifts and even a live violin performance from Valerie Carroll, daughter of fellow resident Norah Stewart.

Professor Dame Judith Hill, former Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland and former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hospice, also paid a visit during the celebrations.

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