Five generations of family mark Harleston woman’s 100th birthday

The five generations of Molly Beckett's family, celebrating her 100th birthday. From left (bottom row): Tania Middleton, Molly Beckett, Mollie Middleton-Keen, Craig Middleton-Keen. (Back row): Dennis Middleton, Jessica Middleton-Keen, Averil Womack, Kimara Farrow and Carl Farrow. Photo:  Zach Ward.
The five generations of Molly Beckett's family, celebrating her 100th birthday. From left (bottom row): Tania Middleton, Molly Beckett, Mollie Middleton-Keen, Craig Middleton-Keen. (Back row): Dennis Middleton, Jessica Middleton-Keen, Averil Womack, Kimara Farrow and Carl Farrow. Photo: Zach Ward.

​It was a double celebration for a former headmistress and Harleston centenarion on Tuesday as five generations of her family marked her 100th birthday.

Molly Beckett, who was born on June 6, 1917, was joined by family, friends and former pupils at the JD Young Hotel in Market Place to celebrate.

Molly Beckett meets her great-great-grandaughter, Mollie Middleton-Keen, for the very first time on her 100th birthday. Photo: Zach Ward.

Molly Beckett meets her great-great-grandaughter, Mollie Middleton-Keen, for the very first time on her 100th birthday. Photo: Zach Ward.

And it was also the first time Mrs Beckett met her great-great-grandaughter, Mollie Middleton-Keen, who was born on May 18.

Mrs Beckett said that, as a child, her mother encouraged her to follow in one of her sister’s footsteps and become a nurse.

Buts Mrs Beckett said: “I could not do that for all the tea in China. I wanted to teach. And that’s what I did.”

​Her teaching career began on May 1, 1937, at Hempnall School, teaching infants​.

It was during that time, while staying in a lodge, she met her husband, Leslie, later that year. They eventually married at Intwood Church on November 9, 1940, and were married until Mr Beckett died in 2004.

Mrs Beckett would later move from state school education to private, taking a job at Eastholme School in Harleston, before later becoming headmistress and owner.

“I was on playground duty one day,” she recalled. “Hilton Francis (the owner) came up to me and said ‘I’m thinking of selling the school. Would you buy it?’

“I said I couldn’t do that, but he said ‘you can, and I’ll be behind you’.”

Former Eastholme pupil Lois Kenyon, of Diss, described Mrs Beckett as “strict but kind”, and regularly visits her.

“She was a wonderful teacher and she still is – she still teaches me things these days,” she said.

And her brother, former pupil Mark, of Needham, said he once wound up in Mrs Beckett’s study for bringing a grass snake into school.

Trying to impress friends, he hid the reptile in his double-desk, out of sight.

“All of a sudden, there was a loud scream from the girl next to me,” said Mr Kenyon.

“The snake had gone from my side of the desk to the other, and up out of the inkwell.

“That was one of the times I was called to her study. It was not a good thing to be called to the study.”

Now a resident at Trees nursing home in the town, Mrs Beckett is also the oldest of the congregation at St John’s Church where, on Sunday, they sang her happy birthday.

Reverend Nigel Tuffnell said she had a “beaming smile” whilst others sang on the day.

“The church feels like her for her,” he said. “It is far more her church than it is mine.”