Florence-threeLively, engaging, and dressed to kill, you would never guess Florence Slattery was only months away from becoming a centenarian.

I’ll be 100 in June,” 99-year old Florence says with a giggle. “I can’t believe it either!”

Born in Eagle Junction in 1916 to Charles and Elizabeth King, Florence and her younger sister, Mabs, grew up in the Brisbane area. In her teens, Florence travelled to England to get her music degree at Trinity College London. Returning to Australia, she attended a soiree and saw the man who would become her husband, Bob Reid. “We met at a party, as usual,” she said with a grin.

After their wedding, Florence and Bob moved to Warwick where Bob worked as an optometrist and Florence gave birth to their five children, Pamela, Nannette, Deanna, Debbie and Robert. Tragedy struck when Bob died when their youngest child was just nine years old. Later she married again for companionship, but her second husband died too, of cancer just a few years later. Then she lost her only son Robert. “My son died from cancer,” Florence said. “The only son I had. It broke my heart…”

An eternal optimimist; while most people would be crushed by so much devastating loss, Florence pressed on, determined to be there for her girls and build a life with meaningful connections and joy. 

“I’ve been alone a long time,” she said, “so I had to get myself organised and into different things. I joined most of the things that were here.”

Florence joined a bridge club, collaborated with a few friends to raise money for West State School, and taught her beloved music to students throughout Warwick. “I taught in nearly every school in one way or another,” Florence said, “but mostly my music.” 

In 2000, a friend from America visited her and introduced her to the Red Hat Society. “We started with just a few ladies,” she said. “My aim was to get it into every state in Australia, and I’ve accomplished that.”

The Red Hat Society now has 250 chapters across Australia with more than 215,000 female members. Even at 99, Florence is still passionate about the Red Hat Society and its mission to support women aged 50 and over. 

“They find it very hard,” Florence said. “All of a sudden work stops and they’ve got nothing to fill their time. Most of them have lost their husbands and are very lonely. We tell a few jokes and have a few drinks and pay for our own lunch.”

In spite of a fall, Florence is still going strong in her new home at Akooramak Care of Older Persons. She still attends Red Hat Society meetings and would not miss her bridge club for anything. “I go every Monday to keep the brain alert,” she said, eyes twinkling. “I thoroughly enjoy their company and it makes me so happy.”

Florence’s greatest joy is her children. “I wouldn’t be here without them,” she said, “because they’ve made my life worth living.”

Words by Krista Bjorn | Images supplied by Florence Slattery