Bexhill’s oldest resident May Willis dies, aged 111

Tributes have been paid after the death of Bexhill’s oldest resident.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 11:23 am
May Willis and Huw Merriman SUS-210623-110737001

May Willis, who lived at The Sackville, died at the weekend, aged 111.

She was born in Peckham, south London, on March 18, 1910, just nine years after the death of Queen Victoria and four years before the start of the First World War.

Her earliest memories dated from the First World War when she asked her mother what the Zeppelin in the sky was.

Friend Roy Haynes paid tribute to May.

He said: “News of May’s death has brought sadness to The Sackville. Even with frailty and diminishing eyesight as she grew older, May loved to meet and chat.

“She was a regular at all The Sackville’s social events but more than that she used to get out and about at a lunch club and outings for the blind. To the very end she was as sharp as a tack.

“She was disappointed when lockdown prevented her from celebrating her 111th birthday in March.

“As a supercentenarian - a very small and select band of those over 110 - she was The Sackville’s most distinguished resident and much-loved by all her friends and neighbours.

“We had planned a big party but it was not to be and she settled for a chocolate cake baked by a neighbour. She never drank alcohol or smoked but she loved chocolate.

“She moved from a top-floor apartment at The Sackville to a ground-floor flat so she could watch the strollers, the dog walkers, the joggers on the promenade.

“I last saw May just under a month ago when she had a fall in the middle of the night. As we waited for the paramedics I held her hand and she reminisced about her life: about her adored late husband Fred, her love of dogs, her award-winning garden in Little Common where she once lived.

“I never knew May before she moved to The Sackville but we became firm friends. Apart from chocolate, May loved hugs.

“On the occasion of her 110th birthday May told a reporter: “I loved every moment of my life. I’ve had a happy childhood and then a happy marriage. What more could you want?”

“Perhaps May’s real secret to long life was the kindness and happiness she she so generously shared with us all.”

Bexhill and Battle MP, Huw Merriman, said: “Last week, we saw the sad passing of one of the most remarkable constituents I have had the pleasure to meet. May Willis was 111 years old when she passed away. She had been a much-loved resident of the Sackville and will be sorely missed by the residents, staff and by me.

“I met with May on her 110th birthday. It was quite an extraordinary experience. Here was a lady full of life. She was very much clued up with everything which was current.

“Of fascination to me was how she could explain the years following the First World War and the build up to, and duration of, the Second World War.

“It was an absolute privilege to hear May’s account. We rarely get the opportunity to understand just what was going on from someone who actually lived through it, as opposed to studied it.

“As well as feeling sorry for May’s passing, I also feel a sadness that we are losing the opportunity to pass on our heritage, history and lessons from one generation to the next.

“I hope that readers will use May’s memory to reach out to neighbours or relatives who are much older and have a story from the past to bring to life.

“It’s good for the well-being of those older to feel valued. It’s also good for the generation below to feel better informed.”

Journalist Philip Elms conducted a series of interviews with May for a bio.

He said: “May was articulate, lucid and full of good humour as she recalled her life and times from Titanic to Covid jabs. A lovely and amazing lady who valued her independence to the end.”