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Ruby still strong at 105

Ruby Lindsay preparing for her 105th birthday. Photo Shetnews

SHETLAND’s oldest resident is celebrating her 105th birthday with family, friends and neighbours at her home at Mooradale, in Lunna.

Enjoying good health, Robina (better known as Ruby) Lindsay is still an active member of the Vidlin WRI, and always looks forward to attending the North Haven day care centre once a week to catch up with the news.

She said she was annoyed about bruising her knee a few days ago, as it means for the first time in her life she has to use a walking stick and would be somewhat hindered in looking after all the visitors on her big day.

She looks back on a career of almost eight decades of cooking and catering, which started in a household in Lerwick’s King Harald Street in 1922 and came to an end in 1997 at Lunna House, when her son Jim suggested that at the tender age of 89 it surely was time to retire.

“He made me give it up,” she says with a smile on her face, and insists: “I could have continued for another ten years.”

Her High Teas and Cream Teas at Lunna House were famous beyond the shores of Shetland.

Visitors came by the bus load and the guesthouse did a roaring trade, a legacy she is tremendously proud of.

“When we arrived at Lunna House in 1964 there was no electricity, no water and all the windows were broken. We did it all up, it was a lovely house; beautiful when I had it,” she recalls.

Over the years she has met hundreds of people from all over the world, including Leif Larson, the famous Shetland Bus commander. Many keep in touch to this very day.

There will be hardly a household in Shetland that receives more Christmas cards from across the globe, while a constant stream of admirers calls along at Mooradale where she and her son Jim have moved after giving up Lunna House.

Born on the 10 July 1908 in Mid Yell as one of six children to Catherine and David Smith, Ruby went to school until the age of 14 in Lerwick, where her father had found work as a cooper.

After working for the Sinclair family in King Harald Street as well as in the “fever hospital” in Lerwick, she made the courageous step and moved to Edinburgh in 1929 where she had secured a job looking after a minister’s family in Duddingston.

She met her husband Frank Lindsay three years later while working in the kitchen of the boy’s hospital of Glenalmond College, one of Scotland’s most expensive private schools.

The couple married in 1933, and it was here their two eldest children Margaret and David were born.

They moved back to Shetland two years later where the family had found a home in a tiny cottage down at the beach at Gulberwick.

They were able to improve their circumstances soon afterwards when a croft up the hill became available.

They stayed at The Garth until 1948 and Mrs Lindsay (as she is respectfully referred to) describes it as a “fine place during the war”.

But they had bigger plans. Bonavista Guest House had been empty for four years already and was in urgent need of somebody to look after it.

For Mrs Lindsay, it was the start of an unparalleled career in catering. Bonavista soon became well-known as a lodgers’ house. Many stayed for years, such as Alex Greig, the manager of the North Star picture house, who was looked after by Mrs Lindsay for seven years.

“He was on the phone only the other day to hear how we were,” she says, adding that by now he must be well into his eighties.

She surely is the prime example of what can be achieved through hard work. “I had nothing when I started at Bonavista, after 16 years it belonged to me,” she says.

The family then embarked on yet a larger project when they bought Lunna House from the Bruces of Sumburgh. It was her husband Frank who first saw the house and went to Sand Lodge to pay for it.

“I looked at it and I thought he was mad. But then it was a fine thing to do. I was quick at work at that time. A lot of people enjoyed it, it was very special,” she remembers.

So, after such a busy and fulfilled life, what is the secret of longevity?

Oh, that’s a question she is being asked all the time, she says, and her answer is no surprise: “I’ve never been sick and I never had a day off. Hard work, no alcohol and no smoking!”

Finally: “And I am a true believer; I believe in God.”

General Election - 12 December 2019