Mary Pead’s 104th birthday cake – or cakes, as there is a trio of them – is huge.
Baked into the shape of the marvellous milestone age she reached earlier this month, each Victoria sponge is larger than the birthday girl’s head. However, she still manages to muster up enough energy to blow out all the candles.
Born on October 17, 1913, at Grays, Essex, Mary Adeline Ambrose was the youngest of six children, with four brothers and one sister.
Her mother, Adeline, was born in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, before moving to Grays, where she met Frederick Ambrose, the co-owner of the Ambrose Bros. mineral water factory.
She attended the Grays Convent Roman Catholic school before getting her first job at the once-prestigious DH Evans department store on London’s bustling Oxford Street.
Falling in love with hairdressing, it was pretty much the only career choice she ever had to make.
Hairdressing was to be her second love, however, behind Raymond Pead, whom she met by chance in the 1930s, before Raymond was called up for service in the Second World War.
‘We met by accident,’ says Mary. ‘I knocked into him. I can’t remember where, but that’s just how I met him.’
She laughs, adding: ‘We must have got friendly!’
It was around the time Mary met her future husband that she defied convention by taking a second job, working as a navy driver.
Mary’s only son, Greg Pead, says: ‘She was a driver in the 1930s, at a time where there couldn’t be woman drivers.
‘Discipline and routine have always been features of her life,’ says Greg. ‘Going back to when I was a kid, certain things happened when they happened repeatedly. I’ve only ever known her work.’
After getting friendly, Raymond and Mary were married in 1944 at the Church of St Peter & St Paul in Grays.
‘My father had come back after six years in the RAF in September, and then they got married in November,’ explains Greg. ‘That’s not very long, is it?’
‘No,’ his mother replies with a cheeky nonchalance.
Greg, 71, continues: ‘She had seen his father, my grandfather, and he said: “Did you know Ray was back?” and she said no.
‘So my father rings her up, and two months later they’re married. That’s a World War Two story for you, isn’t it?’
Mary has two granddaughters, but no great-grandchildren yet.
‘I’d like some great-grandchildren, as long as they come along and be nice,’ says Mary.
‘And if they don’t be nice?’ Greg asks his mother.
‘It’d still be nice...’
Raymond, who was the general manager of Basildon Hospital, died on Mary’s 82nd birthday following complications with emphysema.
‘He was overweight because he ate too many cream cakes,’ explains Greg. ‘He made no joke of it, but as a bloke who ran a hospital he always said: “I’m going to live life”.’
Mary was an Essex girl until 13 years ago, when she moved to Old Portsmouth to be closer to Greg, who lives nearby in Southsea.
‘I met my partner and we commuted for five years between Essex and Southsea, but when we got fed up driving around the M25 I moved down,’ says Greg.
‘Because she was getting older, I asked my mum if she fancied moving down to Old Portsmouth. She was 91, sold her bungalow, organised the whole thing, packed up and moved down.’
Mary continued to live in Old Portsmouth until she was 100, when she relocated to Willow Tree Lodge care home in Fareham.
‘It’s very nice here,’ says Mary, who has made many friends at the home including the manager, Sarah Munro.
‘She’s so polite and considerate,’ smiles Sarah. ‘Every single thing you do for her, she’ll say thank you.’
‘I don’t really give it a thought,’ says Mary about turning 104. ‘It’s wonderful though because I get to see the family.
‘I don’t know what the key to long life is – I’m just lucky!’