Mary Donnelly may not be a “born and bred” local but celebrating her 90th birthday in her adopted town was a memorable and joyous occasion.
The happy gathering at Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club included family and friends and a night of dancing and laughter.
The eldest child of Sid and Eliza Hiscox, Mary came into the world at Armidale, on August 25, 1927.
Six years later the family moved to Tamworth, where Mary grew up with her siblings Rita, John, Vincent, Pauline and Greg.
Mary took up a position in the office at radio station 2TM for three years, followed by a stint as a seamstress in a clothing factory.
After the war, she met Ray Donnelly, a former RAAF fitter, and their mutual love of dancing became a force that united them for life.
Ray Donnelly was a Manilla boy who had followed his mother to Gunnedah after his wartime service in the RAAF. He had applied for re-training under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training scheme, which took him to Tamworth for a carpentry and joinery course at the technical college.
After seven long years, the couple married on June 20, 1953, at St Nicholas’ Catholic Church, Tamworth.
They began their married life in the family home in Barber Street, where Ray’s mother ran a boarding house.
Life was busy as Ray established his own building business and Mary looked after the bookwork.
Over the years, the couple welcomed five children, Therese, Paul, Christine, Bernie and Janette and Mary sewed and knitted for her growing brood, while still looking after the books.
The couple’s love of ballroom dancing returned with a passion as their family grew and made their own way in life. In the early 1970s, they began teaching old time vogue and training debutantes with Bill and Margaret Fox.
The couple touched the lives of hundreds of locals, sharing their love of dance, a pastime that stretched over almost three decades.
After years of football, Ray’s knees finally gave out and a stroke followed in 1990, which put an end to their days on the dance floor.
With three grandchildren welcomed into the family, Mary’s life took a different turn and she threw herself into her knitting and sewing again while caring for her husband.
Eventually Ray became a resident at the nursing home where he died in 1997 just 10 days short of his 75th birthday.
Mary filled her days with gardening and more knitting and sewing, which she entered in competitions with great success. She also joined the CWA and returned to the dance floor, sharing her knowledge with others keen to learn the age-old skill.
Many Gunnedah residents will recall the brightly lit home on the corner of Barber and Abbott Streets as the Donnelly family gathered for Christmas celebrations in the garden.
This Christmas tradition was started inside the house by Gloria Donnelly and moved outside as the family grew. The tradition continues every year with family members travelling long distances to celebrate.
The last five years have been a bitter sweet struggle for Mary Donnelly as she recovered from a stroke but the arrival of her first great-grandchild Bailey in 2012 has brought a smile to her face and so much love as he calls her “beautiful”.
Mary’s 90th birthday celebration included many friends from her dancing group and the music was soon wafting across the floor for the jazz waltz, as timeless as this much-loved mother, grandmother and friend to many.