Sitting in a pool of sunlight, Dorothy Mary de Bruyn’s face lit up when she was handed a bright bunch of flowers and a special card on the afternoon of her 100th birthday.
Her family celebrated her centenary a few days earlier, to coincide with a visit from daughter Rosalie who lives in the UK, but management and staff of Rand Aid’s Ron Smith Care Centre, where Dorothy lives, made sure that her actual birthday was memorable too.
Dorothy was born in Johannesburg on August 21, 1918. Her parents were Evelyn May and Robert Johnston. The families were originally from North Yorkshire and the Loch Lomond area of Scotland respectively.
She spent her early life in Johannesburg and was educated by nuns at the Belgravia convent. Her father drove the first steam engine to Swaziland and the family spent many years living in Carolina.
Dorothy’s childhood was dedicated to ballet and at the age of 16 she passed the Royal Academy of Ballet Elementary exam and started teaching.
The family had by this time moved back to the East Rand where her father was the engineer at the Far East Rand hospital. She met and married Christian Mauritz de Bruyn. As a couple, they were keen ballroom dancers and gave exhibitions at local dances.
They settled in Brakpan and Dorothy’s first ballet studio was in Kitzinger Avenue. She was a well-known ballet teacher on the East Rand at a time when June Meyer, the Gardener sisters, Rosemary Wilson and Thelma Isaacs were all active and teaching. A highlight of the dancing calendar was the Springs Eisteddfod where everyone competed.
She has had a lifelong love and enthusiasm for ballet and even took her studio to see Nadia Nerina and the Royal ballet when they toured South Africa in the 50s.
Their son Chris was born in 1944 and worked as an engineer for South African airways. Rosalie was born in 1950 and worked as a paediatric radiologist at Great Ormand Street children’s hospital after immigrating to the UK. Dorothy has five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
In the 60s and 70s she travelled weekly from Brakpan into the Platteland and had large ballet studios in Bethal and Ermelo. She was very highly regarded and became an examiner for the Royal Academy of Dancing. At the age of 50, she learned and took all the examinations in Classical Greek dancing and became very knowledgeable about Greek mythology.
This led to her choreographing a dance of Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, coming back from the Underworld carrying a pomegranate. In later years, she helped former pupils like Jacqui Chalom teach before finally retiring in her late 70s.
Dorothy has always lived her life with enormous energy and enthusiasm. She particularly loved travelling and exploring new places. She was a regular visitor to the UK but particularly like the buzz of the markets in Hong Kong and Bangkok.
“She loves food and going to good restaurants and she never forgot a good meal or how much it cost! She has a lovely sense of humour and her granddaughter has abiding memories of her saying she ‘was as full as a tick’ after a particularly filling meal,” shares Rosalie.