Merlene Ottey's grandma makes an innings of 105

Centenarian celebrates after husband misses out at 99

Sunday, February 11, 2018

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GURNEY'S MT, Hanover — Centenarian Blanche Medorah Bowen, the grandmother of Olympic sprint queen Merlene Ottey, is from a family of long livers, to include her late husband who died 11 years ago aged 99.

Bowen, who celebrated her 105th birthday last Tuesday, February 6, is a jovial, loving and active woman who is unhappy if she is not able to attend church to serve her God.

She is from the community of Cold Spring, where she grew up most of her life, married and settled.

The Jamaica Observer caught up with her and family on Sunday during a special service at the Gurney's Mount Baptist Church, where Bowen took part in the wine drinking and bread eating communion service led by student pastor Rev Andrew Gordon.

Her last daughter, Carmen, who spoke on behalf of all her children in a tribute, noted: “Mama, this is a perfect day for us to tell you and those present how much we love you. You have given us the greatest gift children can receive — love and kindness. Today we give them back to you. Your patience, humility and selflessness have profoundly impacted our lives, and your unconditional love continues to sustain us.”

Bowen was overwhelmed with the appreciation showed by her large family, friends and church members.

“All my children, young and old from far and near was around me. I can't see them good, but I feel them,” expressed an overwhelmed Blanche whose hearing and sight have been reduced.

She jovially added: “I am proud of them. I feel happy to see them around me. I can't jump and hug them, but they have to come and see me because I can't see enough. But, I glad. I feel good, good, good. I which I had them all the time to hug up and kiss.”

The union of Blanche and her late husband of 68 years, Ezekiel, produced nine children — namely: Joan Bowen-Ottey, Dorothy Bowen-Malcolm (deceased), Ruth Bowen-Gordon (deceased), Beryl Bowen-Brown, Eunice Bowen-Grizzle, Carmen Bowen-Christian, Samuel, Clyve and Glenn in that order.

The couple were small farmers who ate mostly ground provisions such as yam, banana and coco. They also ate meat from animals they reared and drank milk from goats they reared as well.

However, her second son, Clyve is of the opinion that her way of living assisted in her longevity.

“She doesn't have any vendetta against anybody. She might have enemy, but she is not enemy to anybody. I think too, the simple country life where you eat the natural products of the land, drink your simple water, you don't live out of a can or box. Even if she ate chicken, sometimes it was the organic-fed ones that she grew in her backyard.”

When asked what life was like raising a family of nine children, Blanche's reply was: “I had a hard time in bringing them up. Hard, hard, hard. It was really tough on me, but I tried my best.”

She pointed out that the family did not have much, but her husband and children such as Samuel (commonly called Charley) and Joan would assist her with her duties around the home and otherwise.

“Sometimes when Charley come from school, I give him the milk to carry for me. But, Joan help me. Joan a bush lady like me too. She had it hard like me too,” expressed Blanche.

Her first son Samuel picked up from his mother by saying, “we were really dirt poor, but ambitious.”

“We used to come to school up here barefooted. They (parents) make sure that no matter what, we got an education,” added Samuel. “They instilled discipline in us. She never beat, my father was the beater,” he went on.

Blanche's fourth daughter, Beryl Bowen Brown noted that her mother would “walk (from Lucea) to the market in Cascade and on Saturday she would walk to Lucea, buy the cloth come home, cut it, sew it, so we could get it for church the next morning.”

Joan Bowen-Ottey, the first child, and mother of Merlene Ottey related what it was like as a child growing up.

“I grew up more like a boy than a girl. At age 10, I learn to milk the cow. Nobody could milk cow like me. Nobody could fling like me. Nobody could ride horse like me. So I was a real tomboy. My father would just throw the (fire) wood there and I would split it, climb the tree and pick breadfruit and if I don't feel to climb it, I just throw a stone and knock it off. Four stones, four breadfruits, that's how I was. I would also walk to Cascade sometimes when my mother have things to sell, and she couldn't go,” related Joan. “Although I had to milk the cow and move the goat, I was never late for school,” she went on.

The school (Gurney's Mount Primary) is located on the same property as the church and is approximately a mile from their home in Cold Spring.

The original church which was established 187 years ago was destroyed by fire on March 1, 1957 and was latter reconstructed into a history church building from what was originally a jail cell owned by plantation owners.

Bowen Ottey also noted that as children they would walk barefooted to and from school, sometimes without books. “I might have to beg you (classmates) a book leaf. You (classmates) drop your pencil point, I pick it up, put it in a piece of bamboo and I write. But, I was always on top of my class.”

Shawnette, a granddaughter noted that her grandmother is a great cook who loves to cook and ensures that all around her are fed.

“She ensures that we are fed; even now her practice is that when she eats in the morning she makes sure she leaves some of her breakfast for my daughter, Casey, so that when she comes from school she gets it. If you come to her house, and she is eating, she will say to you, 'eat something out of mi plate nuh”,related Shawnette.

Blanche has 28 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren.

In her earlier days, she worked for a short period as housekeeper at guest houses and Tryall Hotel where she met her husband who also worked there for a period.

The couple raised a family of educators. Eight of the nine children became teachers. Two of the daughters have since died. The three eldest daughters later pursued careers as nurses and midwives.

She served her church in the capacity of deacon, chorister, Sunday school teacher and Women's Federation secretary.

She was also a member of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Gurney's Mount All Age School PTA executive, and secretary of the Cold Spring Basic School board.

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