June 9th, 2022Amy turns 103 and celebrates a great life
ATHLETICS legend Amy Burow AM celebrated her 103rd birthday on Monday, May 30.
The Hepburn House resident headed to her daughter’s Clunes’ home over the prior weekend with 50 family members including “grandchildren, nieces and nephews” keen to take part in the big event.
“It was a wonderful day with about 50 people celebrating with me. And I think they sang Happy Birthday about three times at Hepburn House on Monday.”
Amy was always a natural athlete, a runner, and “won everything I entered”. It was when she was 15 and a student at Swinburne Technical College that she received a letter asking her to join the Eastern Suburbs Women’s Amateur Athletics Club.
The club had got wind of this impressive teenager but only knew which school she attended.
The headmistress called her to the office and told her to open and read the letter aloud. Amy did, with the headmistress exclaiming joining an athletic club was no pursuit for a lady.
“All I thought was that I was good enough to be running for the school, so why not a club? I took the letter home and gave it to dad who told me he was going to knock off early the next day, pick me up from school and take me to the club.
“That was during the week and by the weekend I was a member.”
Amy said she competed everywhere, stopped to have her two children after marrying at the end of the war in 1945 and returned as an official.
“An official” is a little bit of an understatement. When she received her Australia Medal last year for significant service to athletics through the support for women and junior sportspersons, the list of involvement was lengthy.
Victorian Athletics Association (now Athletics Victoria) – inaugural director, 1982-1983, convenor of athletics officials, 1982-1983, former committee member and life member.
Victorian Women’s Amateur Athletic Association (now part of Athletics Victoria) – vice-president, 1964-1982, board member (club representative), 1956-1983, treasurer, 1943-1945, convenor of athletics officials, 1980-1984, competition manager for the Doncaster East Athletic Track, 1971-1983, organiser and referee at the State Championships, 1956-1983 and life member.
Waverley Women’s Athletic Club – delegate to VWAAA, 1980s and member, 1980s.
Eastern Suburbs Women’s Amateur Athletic Club – delegate to VWAAA, 1955-1980, treasurer, 1936-1945, competitor (sprinter), 1934-1945, member, 1934-1979, life member.
Maisie McQuiston Foundation (fundraising group supporting female athletes) – inaugural director since 1982 and co-founder, 1982.
The Torch Club (fundraising group supporting junior athletes) – inaugural treasurer, 1984-2017, co-founder, 1984 and current treasurer.
Awards and recognition include a Platinum Service Award with Athletics Australia, 2003, a Life Member of Athletics Australia (formerly the Women’s Amateur Athletic Union of Australia), 1974 and a Merit Award with Athletics Australia.
“It was a wonderful day at Government House. I wasn’t going to go because it was at 10am and I thought it was too early from Clunes but my grandson James Cheshire put my daughter and I up at the RACV Club the night before.” James is also who Amy chose to pin her medal – thanks to Covid, the Governor could not do this.
“I met the Governor (Linda Dessau) who is lovely, and she remembered meeting me two years earlier when they had an event for all the Victorian centenarians. We were just chatting away. Later someone told me the Governor wanted to talk to me privately. I thought ‘what can she want’ but when I went into her office she had her photographer there and asked him to take a photo of her and ‘her friend’. It was just a lovely day. We also had a photo with my daughters Joy Cheshire and Lynette Rose. The Governor said she hoped to see me again in another two years. I said there was no reason I wouldn’t be there.”
Amy said in her day athletics were always divided into men’s and women’s divisions. The men were supported by the governments “but had no money” and the women had no support but plenty of money because they knew how to fundraise. “The men wanted our money for their clubs but not the women – that’s why we started our own fundraising groups.”
Now, for many, that would be a big enough life, but not for Amy. She also worked, starting with an apprenticeship at Myer as a tailoress and then moved to another company for 48 years where she pretty much “ended up running the show”.
Amy finally retired at 84 but later in life took up knitting. She now knits squares for blankets which are given to patients at the Austin Hospital’s Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre. The blankets are all on display and when patients arrive they are asked to choose one and then take them home.
“My granddaughter-in-law is a big wig there and told me one day a bloke came in and asked for ‘a bloke’s blanket, I don’t want one for a sheila’ so she found him a ‘blokey’ one and told him who had made it. At the end of the day, he was really happy to take it home.”
Now living life at Hepburn House, Amy says she loves the staff and “helps them out” when she can. She is also already involved in the next fundraising calendar, with the theme of ageing disgracefully, as one of the models.
“My grandchildren think it’s hilarious. I was going to be sitting at a table with a cigarette in my hand but of course I have never smoked once in my life. So we are going with something a bit more glam.
“I never wanted to move into aged care and I was living at my daughter’s in Clunes but then I came here a couple of times for respite care and it was just fantastic. You hear all those stories about these places but none of them are true here. They just look after you so well and when you thank them they say ‘that’s just our job’ but it is more than that.
“I finally came for respite care for a third time, and it was getting really difficult for my daughter, and they asked how I felt about staying on. I feel bad but I didn’t even think about my daughter and just said ‘yes please’. It really is wonderful here and I would recommend it to anyone. Just come and have a look around. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
And how does she feel about being 103? “I really believe that when we come on this earth whatever happens is meant to be. When you go, you just go. There’s no point worrying ahead of time. I have a fantastic life and am very lucky to have my brain and no aches or pains. And for my birthday I got enough wool to last at least a year, so I am set!”
Words: Donna Kelly | Image: David White & Contributed