Centenarian celebrating 102nd birthday shares secrets to a long life

Walter “Gordon” Brown has reached a milestone many will never reach, celebrating his 102nd birthday. But when he's behind the wheel of a car he says he feels 'about 40'.

On December 28th, surrounded by loved ones at the Bupa Glenburn Retirement Village in New Lynn, Auckland, Gordon Brown celebrated his 102nd birthday.

He believes the secret to such a long life is a relaxed attitude. 

"I never worry. There was one time in my life when I got worried, when my business was very busy. I got in the car and went for a drive to clear my head. I made up my mind not to worry and I've never worried since," he says.

He has also never been a smoker. Tried it once, didn't like it, and never tried it again.

The sprightly centenarian is still living independently and until December 28th, was still driving.

"My licence expired on my birthday, and they won't renew it! I feel like I've lost two arms and two legs," he says.

While Gordon’s birth certificate reads 1915, when he’s behind the wheel of a car, he says he feels about forty.

"Today you can't drive too fast, there are too many cops around," he says.

I love speed. When I was racing cars, I would come up the loose metal road from the wharf to my garage, flat out, pull the wheel over and do a wheelie and then park nicely. No fear. No fear. Still no fear.
Gordon Brown, centenarian

That's one of the many memories he has shared with author Renee Hollis. Renee is documenting Gordon’s extraordinary life story for a book she is writing about New Zealanders who are 100 and over.

“It is very inspiring and a real honour to spend time with these national treasures,” she says.

“I asked Gordon what wisdom or advice would he give people about living their lives. He said, ‘Be ambitious, have faith in yourself. Set a goal and go for it! Stop buggering around and stick to it!’”

Gordon was born in Ruawai, 30kms south of Dargaville. From a young age he would fix anything he could get his hands on.

He later became a mechanic and at age 17, started his own garage. He bought his first car for 25 pounds, and is still obsessed with cars.

"My 50s and 60s were the best years of my life, because I built a sports car and it was going really well," he says.

As a gift for his 100th birthday, his family gave him a drive in a Lamborghini.

His growing family started in 1941 when he married his late wife Reena in Wellington and went on to have two children.

I was on five pounds eight-and-four-pence a fortnight. They were good times.
Gordon Brown, centenarian

He now has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

For his 102nd birthday, Gordon had a family party in one of the beautiful village lounges where his loved ones gathered to celebrate the milestone. Later in the day he was the centre of attention yet again for a village celebration, a “Bupa Shout,” a fun evening where residents come together to enjoy food and beverages on behalf of Bupa.

“Gordon came to see us first thing in the morning smiling and ready for his big day, he left the party smiling and he is still smiling today,” says Village Manager Helen Vlasich.

“We think he is wonderful and an inspiration to everyone.

“We had an additional celebration for Gordon presenting him with a little luxurious cake with blueberries and strawberries with a candle and the number two,” she says.

Last year they decided to start from one again, so this year the tradition continued.

“Gordon also received a beautiful bottle of champagne to toast his incredible life and all the stories we have enjoyed from him over the years," says Helen.

Gordon is always reminding residents and staff at the village to keep active, keep engaged and to enjoy all aspects of life.

But, he admits there is one downside to living to 102.

"All my old friends are gone, so that can be a bit lonely sometimes."

Gordon has adapted to the changing times to keep in contact with his growing family, with a computer and an iPad always at the ready.

He is one of 110 New Zealand centenarians who have so far been interviewed by Renee for the book.

She says each of them is unique, with incredible stories to tell.

“This book is enormously important to me, the people I have interviewed and their families. It is a real honour to spend time with these ‘national treasures’ and record their stories," Renee says.

"I am recording a piece of New Zealand history that could be lost when the centenarian dies."

Keep up to date with how the book is progressing here.

"I want all New Zealanders to value the elderly and to read and appreciate their stories and contribution to our New Zealand society.

"Most importantly, I want to make sure they’re not forgotten in our communities but honoured and celebrated.”

Sentiments beautifully summed up by an old African proverb: "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground."


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