Tuesday 20 November 2018

'No drinking, no smoking, love the Lord and your kids' - Emily's secret to reaching 105

Emily Desano with her great granddaughter Leigh Fitzsimons
Emily Desano with her great granddaughter Leigh Fitzsimons

Victoria Leonard

An east Belfast woman has celebrated her 105th birthday surrounded by four generations of her family.

As she cuddled her two-month-old great, great grandson Oliver, Emily Desano, who spent most of her life working alongside her late husband Samuel in the family's ice cream shop, recalled her experiences of being evacuated from Belfast during the Second World War and of listening to her father's accounts of building the Titanic.

Born on the Avoniel Road in 1913 - a year before the Great War broke out, Emily attended Bill's School on the Beersbridge Road before beginning work "threading bobbins" in a factory when she was just 14.

Aged 18, she met Italian immigrant Samuel Desano at a dance near Millisle, Co Down.

Samuel had arrived in the UK after stowing away on a boat bound for London as a child.

Emily was initially reluctant to accept Samuel's proposal due to the 25-year age difference, but eventually succumbed to his charms.

"He wanted to marry me right away but I said to him I wanted to wait for a year, and he said he would wait 10 years for me," she recalled.

"We got married at Knock Presbyterian Church when I was 19 and it was the happiest day of my life.

"But my parents didn't approve of me marrying an Italian, so I sent them to the wrong church!"

The couple had three children: Eileen, Cecil and Hazel.

Emily spent decades serving customers and making ice cream in the Newtownards Road shop.

During the Second World War she and her children were evacuated to Saintfield, and it was thanks to her foresight that she and Samuel were not interned due to the family's Italian connections.

Granddaughter Janice Fitzsimons revealed: "They were rounding up all of the Italian families and putting them in prison.

"They were considered to be on the other side and they would have put nanny and Samuel in as well, if she hadn't persuaded Samuel to become a British citizen just before the war. If it wasn't for her, they would both have ended up in jail."

The decision to evacuate also proved to be a life-saver after a bomb thought to have been destined for the shipyard landed on Westbourne Church beside the family's home, taking the roof off their property.

The younger generations of the family describe Emily, who has been a member of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle for around four decades, as "inspirational".

"She lived next door to the family's ice cream shop for most of her life and lived by herself until she was 102," her great granddaughter Leigh Fitzsimons (34) said.

"She had a hip replacement when she was 100, but apart from that she has always been very healthy.

"I even caught her up a ladder at 101. She was a brilliant cook, she was just fantastic.

"It's very special for us all to be here with her to celebrate her 105th birthday, particularly with the great, great grandchildren Ella (2) and little Oliver. She's a wonderful role model."

Having received her second birthday card from the Queen, Emily shared her secrets to a long and healthy life.

"No drinking, no smoking, and love the Lord," she said. "I love the Lord and my children."

Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News