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A woman who waits for no one

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Good life: Aileen Wright retired as a hairdresser 20 years ago, having developed a love for it in her teens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Wright family joke is that 97-year-old Aileen waits for no one. It was certainly true last October when she wanted to visit her sister, Ianthe Pearman, who was ill.

Her family offered to drive her to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital but she grew impatient waiting, and decided to take the bus. Twenty-seven steep steps separate Ms Wright’s St George’s home from the road, and she doesn’t use a cane.

She got to the stop just as a bus was pulling away from the kerb.

“I ran after it, caught it up and banged on the door,” Ms Wright said, adding that she then gave the driver a piece of her mind.

“What’s wrong with you making an old woman run like that? Don’t you know I’m 96 years old?”

The entire bus fell into stunned silence.

“Now why’d I say that?” Ms Wright laughed as she retold the story. “It was like they were charmed or something.”

She was born in the Wellington Road house she lives in today.

Her father, Joseph Pearman, suggested removing the steps and putting in a driveway but neither Ms Wright nor her late sister Ianthe, who also lived there, saw much point.

“I don’t really notice them,” she shrugged. “I’ve been running up and down them my whole life and neither of us drove.”

One of eight children, Ms Wright left school at 13.

“My mother [Maude Butterfield Pearman] got rheumatic fever so I stayed home to take care of her,” she said. “Then the next year, at 48, she got pregnant and had my younger sister Frances. A neighbour looked at her and called her Rosie, and the name stuck.”

Her sister Ianthe, a long-time teacher died in November aged 94. Siblings Norris and Percival Pearman, Phyllis Burgess and “Rosie” Betterson have also passed. A brother, Edric Pearman, is 101 and another sister, Edith Miasner, turns 90 in April.

Ms Wright thinks it’s because they always had good food growing up. Her father often took tourists deep-sea fishing and would bring back fresh catch.

She was also always physically active. Her childhood was full of swimming and boating, and she loved to run.

She still remembers in detail, some of the races she took part in as a student at East End Primary back in the 1930s.

“For this needle and thread relay race we had to run and thread a needle,” she said.

“I must have been about 12. My hands were always steady so I handled the needle-and-thread part, and I ran. At first I was paired with a girl called Thelma Smith who could run faster than I could, but then she got sick.”

To her horror, she was paired with a girl who was not as fast.

“She could never run,” she said. “I said, ‘If you don’t win this I’ll beat you’. In the race, I flew up there and then, she went. This girl passed her and I was almost having a heart attack. But she won it for me. She just about made it.”

One of the hard parts about being almost 100 is the number of people she has lost. Her best friend, Olga Wales Smith, died 20 years ago.

“That was very hard,” she said. “We were friends since we were babies and I was there with her when she died.”

Losing her sister Ianthe was also difficult. When she took sick last year, Ms Wright said no to a nurse, insisting she would take care of her herself.

She retired as a hairdresser 20 years ago, having developed a love for it in her teens.

“I’d travel around to people’s homes doing their hair, then I got tired of that so I had them come to the house and did them in our kitchen. But my father didn’t like that so he built me a beauty parlour next to our house. It was called Aileen’s.”

She went to New York to brush up on her skills and learn the latest trends. At one point she developed an allergy to the sulphur in perm products and had to use a face mask while working on people.

She was also artistic, and in the days of black and white photographs would tint them by hand, with paint.

“When colour photography came along it really messed me up,” she said.

She got interested while dating a photographer, Herbert “Bert” Wright.

“We courted for years,” she said, remembering how they loved to go dancing. “I was having a good time.”

They finally married when she was 34 although the union ended in divorce.

“I’m sorry about it now,” she said, although she feels fortunate to be able to dote on her 19 nieces and nephews and their offspring. “Had I got married younger, we might have had a family.”

Looking back, she regrets that she didn’t fulfil all her dreams.

“I always wanted to learn how to paint but I guess it’s too late now,” she said. “But I do feel very lucky. Life has been very good to me.”

Her hope is that she remains as sharp as she is now for the rest of her life.

“If [I lose my faculties] that will be the end,” she said. “Put me away!”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Younger days: Aileen Wright as a young woman (Photograph supplied)
Aileen Wright (Photograph by Akil Simmons)