Just ‘another day in the office’ as Eric turns 102

December 26, 2017

Echuca resident Eric Leitch, pictured on his 102nd birthday with grandaughter Angela Richardson (8). Photo: Stuart Walmsley

IT WAS a far cry from 2015, when Eric Leitch could hardly move for the 90-odd family members and friends packed around him and everyone smiling for the camera.

But you don’t turn 100 every day, so that explained the gathering at Wharparilla Lodge on December 20 that year.

Last week December 20 was a little low profile as the grand old man turned 102, an occasion he shared with his three daughters, granddaughter and two of his great grandchildren.

Sitting in the Lodge Cafe at Wharparilla Eric cheerfully chatted and laughed with his family and enjoyed some of the cake specially prepared for him by the catering staff.

Everyone around Eric wished him a happy birthday and remarked how well he was doing for his 102 years.

And he really is.

That morning he had squeezed in a game of indoor bowls before devoting the rest of the day to his daughters — Phyll, who lives nearby in Echuca and Gwen is just across the water in Moama but Margaret had come 2442.6km from Townsville. By comparison his granddaughter Gail and her children Jayden and Angela did an easy 1511.4km from Brisbane.

Through his late 90s Eric was a keen member of the mobility and exercise regimen at Wharparilla but lately has been happy drawing and pottering around with the other residents of Wharparilla Lodge — but is at his happiest when surrounded by his family.

And it must all seem a world away for a man who was born the year the Anzacs waded ashore at Gallipoli.

His is a classic Australian story too — from riding the pony cart to school at Womboota (an hour each way) and in winter “we would get out and run behind to keep warm” to having to give up his education after just 18 months in high school to work on the family farm outside Moama, helping his parents and siblings battle the Great Depression and years of drought.

“My sister Rene and I walked 30 cows from Thyra Rd at Moama, over ‘that’ bridge, through the streets and out to Bamawm Extension,” he said.

“She and I lived there all summer in a tin hut, milking by hand, and then walking the cattle back after summer.”

Eric and his late wife Dorothy were married in February, 1941, when for the Allies the war was all bad news.

With a brother in the air force he was needed by the country to run his two farms, often for 16 hours a day.

Sitting back in the gardens close to his room, Eric was at ease in the colourful environment as gardening became one of his favourite hobbies after leaving his life on the farm.

‘‘It’s just another day in the office,’’ the centenarian (plus a couple) laughed along with his loved ones.

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