A last celebration

Mary Duffield.

Mary Duffield.

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A CENTENARIAN died just 20 minutes after receiving a telegram from the Queen to mark her milestone birthday.

Mary Duffield passed away on her 100th birthday at the Seaton Hall residential home, in Seaton Carew, after battling through illness for five years to make it to the landmark occasion.

Her son were travelling up from Barnoldswick, in Lancashire, to help her celebrate her special day - but sadly arrived to the news Mary had died.

The home’s manager, Carole Roberts read out the telegram to Mary at 11.30am and around 20 minutes later she passed away.

Today her devoted son, Alan, paid tribute to his “loving, hard-working mother” who had helped to run the Cafe Royal on The Front from 1946 until around 1984.

Alan, 78, said his mother had suffered dementia for the past five years since having a stroke.

“She was given up for terminal at this stage,” he said.

“She got back into the home at Seaton Hall and for their care and attention, she managed to live for the next five years.

“It’s extraordinary really that she lived as long and whether or not there was any attempt to reach 100 and get her birthday card from The Queen, one will never know.”

Alan, who worked in management and whose late wife Anne was a senior hospital sister, added: “I was on my way up to see her, but we arrived about 1.30pm.

“We were arranging to have a party on the following Saturday.”

Ms Roberts, who manages the care home where Mary lived from 1998, said: “Mary was quite a character.

“She had had her dinner and I had read all her cards out to her.

“She really hung on until that day. It was weird the way it happened.

“About an hour later her birthday cake was delivered, but we had to turn it away.”

Grandmother-of-two and great-grandmother-of-one Mary, who was keen on dancing right up until her early 80s, was born in Horden to parents Maria and Dominic Pontone, who was interned during the Second World War and drowned after the SS Arandora Star, the ship he was being transported to Canada on, was torpedoed.

Educated at the former Hartlepool Convent School, Mary was married to Henry and was also mother to Ivor, who passed away, aged 74, in 2004.

Mary, who was one of seven children, moved to Seaton Carew in 1946 and the family lived above and ran the Cafe Royal, taking over from her mother.

Alan said: “I just remember her as a hard-working, loving mother.

“She worked most of her life because she was always working for her dmother in cafes and ice cream parlours.

“She will be sadly missed.”

Mary is also survived by her sisters, Winnie Jones, who lives in Wales and Rita Fraser Pontone, who settled in Rome.

Her cremation will take place tomorrow at Stranton Crematorium at 12.20pm.