Saturday, 31 August 2013

Jean Waireti Ormsby McGruther

Jean Waireti Ormsby (McGruther) Bell

Written By David Bell

JEAN WAIRETI ORMSBY BELL was born at Gisborne, on the eastern coast of the North Island, 29 January 1920. Her father, John McGruther, was a schoolmaster at the native boarding school at Waerengahika, about eight miles northwest of Gisborne. The school was established in 1890. When she was four years old her father obtained the appointment to head the three schools on the island of Mangaia in the Cook Islands group arriving April, 1924.

Jean spent her formative years on Mangaia, becoming as one of the locals and learning to speak the language like a native. She speaks of her tropical island days with great fondness; the happiest days of her life.

She was meant to stay only three years and on the family's first tri-annual furlough back to New Zealand it was intended she remain and attend boarding school for a 'better' education as her father put it. She felt to differ; she did not relish the idea of having an ocean separating them. Luck in the form of misfortune favored her; she contracted a dose of rheumatic fever and the doctors recommended she return to the sunny climes of Mangaia to recover, which she duly did. It was another three years later before she returned to New Zealand permanently and took up school at Pamerston North.

Below: A picture of the rocky nature of Mangaia.
These, she claimed, were the most miserable times of her life. The family was scattered and apart, something she was always uncomfortable with. Her brothers in some ways had it even tougher because they were packed off to boarding school on the first trip home and only spent three years on Mangaia. 

After finishing school, she returned to the Puketotara family farm to help her eldest brother, Jock, who had suspended his own university studies to manage it. These were halcyon times for her. She loved the farm, finally being around family, cousins, and friends. She was seventeen.

Jean married Peter Bell from Pirongia on 1 March 1939 and they had their first child at the outbreak of World War Two. Her brothers were both called into service in the Middle East and her beloved Jock was killed 14 July, 1944, an event that devastated her and the family.

Her second son, Colin, was born just after the war stared and very soon after, her husband, Peter, was called to fight in the Pacific. Thankfully, the war was nearing its end and after seeing action briefly in the Solomon Islands he returned safely.

After some time living in Pirongia she and Peter purchased a farm under a government scheme to assist returned soldiers onto farmland. The farm was located up Parihoro Road in the Ngutunui district where they remained until retirement age. The farm sustained their growing family for nearly thirty years.

The farm on Parihoro Road.

Jean with the first of her children, Peter McGruther and Colin Walter.

Her years with Peter were not always harmonious, their marriage hitting more than a few rough patches, Peter's trouble with drinking being the main culprit. In their later years when they could have enjoyed their twilight time together they separated and remained that way until Peter's death in 2011.

A family picture taken at the entrance to the Pirongia Memorial Hall about 1955.
Back row: Jean, Mac, Peter. Front: Colin, Maurice, David, Glenda.

Jean with Peter and surviving children from left to right: Colin, Glenda,
Stewart, Jan, Mac, David.

In all, she mothered nine children, two having died as infants; Paul, just twelve hours after his birth from a congenital heart defect and John who was stillborn. Both are buried in the Pirongia cemetery. Her children are: Peter McGruther (Mac), Colin Walter, Glenda Mary, David, Maurice, Stewart, and Jan Marie. Maurice died of cancer 6 October, 1985, aged 34 and is also buried in the Pirongia cemetary. 

Headstone for Maurice, Jean's fifth child.

She lived to see numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. In her later years she gave much of her time to her children and grandchildren. She spent many years in Perth, Australia with Jan and her family and then in Queensland with Stewart and his family.

Greatly loved by all she passed from this life at 8 September, 2012 at 4 a.m. in her bed at the Te Ata Rest Home on Teasdale Street, Te Awamutu.

Her remains were cremated on Thursday, 13 September and a memorial plaque will be placed in the Pirongia Cemetery.

Sources used:

1. Personal memories.

2. A four hour taped interview conducted July, 2003 at her home in Pirongia. 3. Family letters and documents.

4. Waireti: A biographical novel of her life by David Bell.

5. Mac Bell, Kaumatua and family historian.

6. Birth, death and marriage certificates.

7. Tertiary educational project authored by Sharon Tautari.


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