From the invention of penicillin to ChatGPT, Irene has seen it all in her 102 years

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Not many people have witnessed the transformations that Irene Watson has – after all, she was born just after the end of World War II.

That was before penicillin, bubble gum, nylon, and aerosol cans were invented. When she turned 102 on September 8, the resident of Rand Aid’s Ron Smith Care Centre in Edenvale could say she had just lived through the mass introduction of artificial intelligence applications, like ChatGPT.

Despite the many technological breakthroughs unfolding around her, Irene enjoyed an old-fashioned celebration – a birthday cake and tea enjoyed in the company of loved ones, fellow residents and staff.

Irene was born in Darlington, England, in 1921. On completing her education at the Catholic Immaculate Conception School, she started work at Binns Departmental Store in the accounts department.

She married Reg Watson in 1944 and had two children, Trevor and Fiona. In 1957,  the family emigrated to Southern Rhodesia and settled in Bulawayo.

“These were the best days of their life,” says Irene’s daughter, Fiona Martin.

Irene Watson (102) with Ron Smith Care Centre employees Bianca Dlomo and Lindiwe Hhlope.

Fiona says after much consideration, her parents decided to emigrate to South Africa in 1982 to be nearer their children. They initially lived in Kempton Park, then moved to Port Elizabeth, before moving into Tarantaal Retirement Village, where they were among the first village residents.

“My mom was an avid reader, loved doing crossword puzzles and joined the Toast Mistress’s Club in Kempton Park.”

Sadly, Reg passed away in 2001 and son Trevor in 2016.

Irene continued to live independently in her Tarantaal home until 2016, when she moved to Ron Smith Care Centre.

“She is given the best care and attention,” says Fiona.

Irene’s daughter-in-law Kate and granddaughter Sarah both live in America, but Fiona lives close by, in Benoni, and visits Irene regularly.