Tess finds joy turning 100 during COVID-19 pandemic

03 Sep 2020

By Theresia Titus

Tess O’Leary who turned 100 years old in May, embraces life with joy and a great sense of humour. Photo: Theresia Titus

By Theresia Titus

With a great sense of humour, Floreat Wembly parishioner, Mary Therese O’Leary, also known as Tess, recently celebrated 100 years on 24 May.

“He has not yet got a room for me,” she laughed.

In an interview with The Record, Tess said a good sense of humour is necessary to get her through the years. 

“Well, you have to have [a good sense of humour], don’t you? Otherwise, you would be crying,” she explained. 

When Tess turned 100 years old in the middle of the Coronavirus-led restrictions – which prevented large gatherings of people – one of her closest friends managed to arrange a group of musicians from the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) to play outside of her house.

The neighbours, unaware of the other plans, had also arranged for three members of the Western Australian Opera Perth to perform from a vehicle in the street the day before her birthday, and Tess has not stopped talking about both occasions since.

“We had a glass of champagne, and the musicians played for half an hour. That was lovely,” she smiled. 

Recalling her younger years, Tess said she grew up in a “fairly secluded life”. 

Tess and her husband, Francis O’Leary, on their wedding day, 7 January 1950. Photo: Supplied.

Following the death of her mother’s husband, Tess’s mother continued to raise her and two sons as a single parent, with Tess always by her side. 

“I was not allowed to be myself really until I started to go to work,” she shared. 

“When I got married, Mum did not want me to leave her.”

“I had a bit of a hard time breaking into life as it should be,” she added.

Having been interested in politics, young Tess worked for various members of parliament Canberra during the war, as well as in Melbourne, before she settled and worked in Perth in 1953.

It was in Melbourne that she met her future husband, Francis Patrick O’Leary, whom she married on 7 January 1950 at Subiaco Parish St Joseph’s Church. 

“I knew him from when he was about 12 years old, and I did not catch up with him until much later. He was in the Royal Australian Air Force when I met him again,” she said. 

“We decided to get married in Perth and went back to Melbourne to live [for] three years.”

It has been 14 years since her husband died, but Tess said that she has never felt lonely; her interests, including her participation in the garden club and musical outings, as well as dining out or in with her friends have become part of her daily routines.  

“I have not had the time [to be lonely] as someone is always here,” she beamed. 

Sitting at her favourite chair and admiring her garden, Tess said that trying to help people has been her life purpose, something that she advises younger people to do. 

“There is always someone you can help, who is worse off than yourself. I think if you live your daily life doing the right thing, you set an example,” she said. 

“When people asked me my philosophy in life, I would tell them these three things: something to do, something to look forward to and someone to love.”

“If you work around those [three things], you are not doing too badly. I have wonderful friends, and I see someone every day, I have also had carers coming every morning and night; what more do I want?”