Surrounded by her 10 children, 42 grandchildren, 70 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren, Norma Pharoah raised a glass to celebrate her 90th birthday.
As ‘queen’ of one of the biggest families in Portsmouth, almost 100 members of her huge family came together for a surprise celebration at Moneyfields Social Club, Portsmouth.
Born on February 6, 1929, in Stamshaw, Norma Ivy Smith was one of six children and has lived in Portsmouth all of her life.
At the age of 16, she met the love of her life Raymond Leonard Pharoah, and within two years they married on January 17, 1948, at Portsmouth Registry Office.
Together, the Pharoahs raised 12 children: Ray, Dave, Christine, June, Jan, Shelley, Norma, Alan, Paul, Andrew, Lisa and Hayley.
Granddaughter Claire Heywood says: ‘They spent a very happy marriage in the family home in Seaway Crescent, Milton.
‘While the children were young, Norma worked as an auxiliary nurse at St Mary’s Hospital and Ray ran a roofing company.’
Their home at Seaway Crescent holds many happy memories for the Pharoah children because most of them lived there with their partners and children at one time.
‘Even when her own children were grown up, the house was always full of people and us grandchildren grew up with her home as our second home,’ recalls Claire.
‘Her children and their families returned most Sundays. I, for one, remember helping her peel sacks of potatoes and dishing up her Sunday roasts for around 20 people most weeks.
‘It really was such a happy home. My grandad was a joker and nan would roll her eyes when he spent hours telling us grandchildren stories and promising to take us to Gosport – he had us believing it was a tropical place – if we ate our crusts and vegetables,’ she laughs.
Ray and Norma ran the members’ bar of the TA Centre in Stanhope Road, Portsmouth, with the help of son-in-laws Tony and Martin and many family occasions were held there.
‘All the family have great memories of these occasions,’ says Claire.
Ray Pharoah proudly completed his National Service with the Parachute Regiment and ‘his photo in full uniform took pride of place on the mantelpiece’. After Ray died in 1993, his grandson Ray – named after his grandad – followed in his footsteps and served in the Parachute Regiment too.
Sadly, Norma and Ray lost their daughters Norma Hurdle and Christine Chandler to cancer, however all of the other family members still regularly see each other.
Today, Norma lives with her youngest daughter Hayley, her husband Paul Raine and their three children in Hilsea.
‘I have been lucky enough to grow up with her living with us and I have never met such a determined, proud and inspiring person,’ says grandson Alfie Raine.
‘All I can do as one of her grandchildren is thank her for raising her children with such love and respect which is now being passed on to us all.’
And on February 9, the family celebrated Norma’s life, achievements and special birthday.
‘She had no clue and she was really shocked but loved it,’ explains Claire.
‘It’s nice to see that our sons and daughters are becoming as close to their cousins as we did when we were younger. It was a lovely evening, absolutely brilliant.
‘Everyone was taking turns speaking to Norma and she loved watching everyone have fun.
‘She did get emotional and couldn’t believe we had organised this without her knowing,’ she laughs.
‘She said she was very proud of our big family.’
Dave Pharoah, third eldest son, says: ‘Life as children and adults with the most amazing mum meant we never really wanted for anything, especially love. I know I speak for all of us – including in-laws, grandchildren and many friends – in saying how much she is loved by us all.’
Great-granddaughter Ellie Farrell adds: ‘We’re so lucky to have such an amazing family.’
‘This woman truly is one in a million,’ smiles granddaughter Candice Pharoah.