• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Jane Gray

Supercentenarian and oldest Scot.

Born: December 1, 1901; Died: June 7, 2014

Jane Gray, who has died aged 112, was the oldest living Scot who, despite spending almost 90 years in Australia, never lost her native accent - or her love of a Highland Fling.

The daughter of a shoemaker, she emigrated from the village of Newtyle, near Blairgowrie in Perthshire, in 1927 to follow her fiancé Down Under, arriving there one day and marrying her Aberdeenshire-born sweetheart the next day.

The young couple put down roots in New South Wales where she settled for the rest of her extraordinarily long life. Yet that little bit of Angus countryside remained in her heart and Scotland would forever be the place she regarded as home.

Born just after the dawn of the 20th century, Jane, known as Jeannie, arrived in the world in 1901 as the second Boer War was raging, Australia's six colonies had just ­federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia and the UK was still mourning the death of Queen Victoria. The author Lewis Grassic Gibbon was born that same year and a few days after Jeannie's birth Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal.

She would witness two world wars, the terms of almost 30 Australian prime ministers, the reigns of five British monarchs, the advent of flight and the space race and the birth of the world wide web.

One of a family of six, her father Andrew Cant and one of her sisters also had the longevity gene, living until well into their nineties, but tragically she lost both her mother and a younger sister to the influenza epidemic that swept the globe in 1918. One of her brothers was killed during the First World War.

Mrs Gray, who worked as a nanny after leaving school, was 22 when she met her future husband John "Jock" Gray, of Durris in Aberdeenshire, on a blind date. Five years later, after he had left to work in Australia, she moved to Sydney to join him.

The couple subsequently bought a poultry farm where, during the Second World War, they took in British servicemen, at least one of whom remained in touch with Mrs Gray by post for the next 70 years.

Mrs Gray and her husband, who were married for 60 years and had two children, Sandy and Heather, eventually sold the farm and a hospital now stands on their land. They moved to Smithfield, New South Wales, where Mrs Gray stayed across the road from her daughter, who later cared for her mother.

It was only in the last year or so that she moved into a nursing home where she celebrated her 112th birthday last December and claimed that the secret to her long life was plenty of good food and clean living — no smoking or drinking.

She returned home to Scotland several times over the years and enjoyed Highland dancing. She would exercise by practising the ­Highland Fling dance steps, latterly kicking her legs from the comfort of her chair.

She also kept herself busy, writing home every week, telephoning her niece in Newtyle regularly and knitting hundreds of teddies for newborn babies in a local hospital in Australia.

A couple of years ago she reportedly said she was aiming for the title of the world's oldest person. Although she did outlive the title-holder, then a 116-year-old American woman, she did not quite beat her record.

But her family continues to revere her as a legend and, as Australia's oldest resident as well as the oldest Scot on the planet, she was a truly amazing supercentenarian.

Her daughter Heather McKenzie said her mother was a legend. "I miss her already and I feel a bit lost," she said. "She will always be there in my heart. She just had no more to give at 112 and a half.

"She just loved her family and always had something to give, even if it was telling stories and nursery rhymes. She will be missed."

Mrs McKenzie also said her mother's heart had always been in Scotland despite the fact that she had lived in Australia for so long.

"She was a happy woman," said Mrs McKenzie, "But her heart was in Scotland. I think she believed she was in Newtyle for the last couple of months. But I think it made her happy that she thought she was back home.

"Having said that, she never regretted moving here and loved her life in Australia."

Mrs Gray, who was widowed in 1987, is survived by her children, nine grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and two great-great- grandchildren.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

239939