A woman who received a rare tribute from the Prime Minister of New Zealand has died soon after celebrating her 100th birthday.
John Key sent the hand-written birthday greetings card to Bessie Barton, and it was delivered to her by New Zealand family friends Gleniss and Barry Hodder when they visited Bessie recently at Balcombe Place Care Home.
Her daughter Pamela Holt has been pen pals with Gleniss for 62 years and Mrs Holt recalled: “When John Key heard of this he thought it was quite a remarkable achievement and deserved some form of recognition. He stated that it was a one-off special as only people born in New Zealand are entitled to receive the Prime Minister’s card.” Mr and Mrs Hodder had flown over to spend a holiday with Mrs Holt.
For Bessie’s birthday, people visited from Scotland, Yorkshire, Leicester, Berkshire and Hampshire. She also received the usual card from the Queen.
Bessie, who was widowed in 1981, lived on her own until she 98, with support at Sheddingdean Sheltered Housing at Burgess Hill. She previously lived at Woodleigh Road, Burgess Hill for 50 years, after she and husband Percy, a linen buyer at the Hannington’s store, had moved the family from London in 1955.
Bessie had lived at Balcombe Place since 2011. She was born in 1913 in the mining village of Ferryhill, County Durham, the second of five children. At 16 she worked at Duncombe Park on the Earl of Feversham’s estate in Yorkshire, then Queen Mary’s School for Girls, before meeting Percy when she worked for Sir Peter Kemp at Heathfield. They married in 1936 at Holy Trinity Church, South Woodford, Essex, and lived at Woodford Bridge until Percy went to Burma with the Army in World War 2.
Bessie and her daughter of seven months, Pamela, were evacuated to Ferryhill, and after the war Percy was re-united with them in Chelsea, where a second daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1947, before their move to Burgess Hill.
Bessie’s funeral will be held on September 20 at 1.45pm at the family chapel at Downs Crematorium, Brighton. Donations are invited for St Peter and St James Hospice at Wivelsfield Green instead of floral tributes.