By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
YESTERDAY was a very special day in the life of Ruby Lindsay from Lunnaness.
Thursday 10th July was the day she reached her 100th birthday, an event not experienced by many and one she herself found hard to believe was really happening.
Her family and the Vidlin community knew how admirable it was to have a fit and active centenarian in their midst, though, and gave her a party last night in the Vidlin Hall.
Mrs Lindsay said before the celebration that it would be unusual to be the centre of attention, this being her first ever birthday party. “I never had time to have one before.” And what to wear? “I’m so small I canna get anything to fit, I’m just having a dress, it will be alright.”
Mrs Lindsay was born Robina Margaret in Mid Yell in 1908, the daughter of David and Catherine Smith.
Her father was a cooper and the family moved to Lerwick before the First World War to be close to his work at the herring stations, living in the Anderson’s Buildings above the Commercial Road shops. She was a pupil at Lerwick Central School (no school uniform, no school dinners and a strict routine sitting silently in rows and frequent lashings of the strap) until the age of 14.
Then from 14 to the age of 89 came a lifetime of hard work coupled with a healthy lifestyle – “I never smoked or drank” – which she believes is the secret of her longevity.
Her first job was as cook in a house in King Harald Street and then cook in the old Isolation Hospital. Later she worked – again as a cook – in Edinburgh and then at Glenalmond College in Perth. “I loved cooking, I always wanted to work as a cook.”
It was while she was in Perth she met Frank Lindsay, a gardener and florist from Crieff. They married in 1933.
Five years later the couple returned to Shetland where they had a croft at Gulberwick for 12 years. They had scant experience of crofting, but: “We managed lovely. We lived there during the war.”
They then bought Bonavista guest house which they ran for 16 years, keeping teenagers who were at school in Lerwick as well as long-term lodgers – the manager of the picture house stayed seven years, and bankers for three. Full board was offered and Mrs Lindsay did all the decorating: “It was all hard work – I’ve worked hard all my life.”
But it was when they were out for a run in the 1960s that they saw the place that would become their biggest project of all – Lunna House. Occupied by Norwegians and used as the HQ of the Shetland Bus during some of the Second World War, the huge commanding villa had been empty for nearly 25 years and was virtually a ruin, with no water or electricity. “I aye thought what a shame to see a big house with no one in it.”
Taking on a commitment of that size would not have been for the faint-hearted, but the Lindsays and their three children – Margaret, the late David and Jim – approached it with gusto. “We didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I think about it now. I thought ‘if you can do the cooking you can do the rest’, and it proved to be a success.”
Mrs Lindsay did all the internal painting and decorating, while her husband took a year off from his work with Lerwick contractors to do the outside. “It came to be a lovely big house with 10 bedrooms and three big visitors’ rooms and everybody liked it. It had a lovely big kitchen with plenty of room to work. We had it so neat and everything looked so lovely.”
They operated their historic home as a guest house and were open to the public for memorable Sunday lunches and teas, the latter a feast of homemade pancakes, scones and sponges served on fine china.
Eventually Mrs Lindsay, whose husband sadly died soon after retirement, had to move and now lives about a mile away from the beloved big house with her younger son Jim.
But she still works: “I can still bake and cook but I can’t see very well now.” Her eyesight means that she can only do plain knitting, not Fair Isle as she used to, but she is blessed with good hearing and good health, never having suffered much illness or needing tablets, and still enjoying a bowl of porridge every morning.
Recently, she said, the years have flown. “They seem to have passed so quickly lately, I can’t believe I’m 100.” And the years have brought changes. “There are so many houses in Gulberwick, and I don’t know my way round Lerwick now, so many shops have changed, it’s all changed.”
In the century of Mrs Lindsay’s life there have been even bigger social changes – the upheaval of two world wars, the transport revolution and the advent of the NHS – which have made for an entirely different lifestyle for all. But through all the changes, family and community remained the most important part of life.
Yesterday they joined forces to celebrate a remarkable woman on the day she received her telegram from the Queen, a greeting to join the host of cards from well-wishers.
Mrs Lindsay’s party comprised a meal at 6pm followed by a dance with the Cullivoe Dance Band, the first time they had had the privilege of playing at a 100th birthday party. Mrs Lindsay’s granddaughter Joyce and her niece from Stonehaven were among the guests.
The festivities will continue next week when the daycare unit at North Haven Care Centre, which she attends twice a week, holds a lunch in her honour.