THE secret to a long, happy life? According to one nonagenarian tennis player, it is simply this – keep on rolling.
Arthur Norris, 98, was presented with a lifetime achievement award yesterday from his tennis club, where he has been playing continuously since 1946.
The Dunmurry pensioner, and former RAF serviceman, was given the honour by Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson before a host of Windsor Lawn Tennis Club’s members yesterday morning.
Said to be perhaps the oldest active tennis player in the world, Mr Norris immediately set out to dispel any doubts about his fitness after the presentation, by changing into sports clothes and hitting the court to show off his skills alongside the Lord Mayor.
Mr Robinson said that this year, with the Diamond Jubilee, he has been particularly focussed on recognising “one person’s service to this country” – but that it is also important to focus on the “true stalwarts” of Belfast.
He added that he had once been a member of a tennis team, but his shots often ended up over the fence.
So, with Mr Norris’ “many, many years of continuous practice, you’d be able to beat me – and maybe that’d be an achievement in itself”.
Mr Norris was given a grey hooded top, emblazoned with his initials, a crystal clock and a portrait of a Spitfire aircraft, painted by an RAF pilot.
Gordon Addy, the chairman of the club, introduced the presentation by saying that Mr Norris was “one of our most revered members”, and although it is impossible to confirm, he believed he is the oldest actively playing member of a tennis club in Ireland, the UK or possibly anywhere in the world.
Rising to speak himself, Mr Norris said: “Many people will think I’ve had an interesting and somewhat adventurous career. But I don’t think so – interesting, perhaps, but adventurous, I think hardly.”
He then went on to undermine this, recounting his travels with the armed forces, which took him to Sierra Leone, South Africa, Liberia, The Gold Coast (now Ghana), Tangiers, Gibraltar and a string of other countries.
He drew murmurs of awe from the crowd when he recounted one of the bizarre sights he has seen – the Stromboli volcano in full eruption.
“So if I’m not well churched,” he said. “I am well travelled.
“To have lived into the 90s and beyond is no great deal these days. Quite a lot of people do it.
“But to have got up to this stage and still be active in body and mind, well, I think I’ll be lucky and grateful.”
Although he added: “Mind you, Lord Mayor, there have been people who have spoken disrespectfully of my mind, although I am sure you are not one of them.”
On the subject of just how he has managed to stay so fit, he said: “I suppose I owe my longevity to what I have inherited from my parents. I’ve always been healthy, I’ve had no major illnesses, tropical or otherwise, and generally speaking I have kept active and kept going.
“Rather like Old Man River in the song – I’ve just kept rolling along.
“I think you’ve honoured me beyond my desserts, but thank you all the same.”
Club honorary secretary David Williams, 53, from south Belfast, said: “I think it proves to everyone in sport that you can keep going on as long as you keep making the effort.
“Like he says: he keeps rolling on. I take my hat off to him.”
Another one of the 40-or-so attendees at the meeting was David Gotto, 64, also from south Belfast.
Until recently he held the world record for the number of international squash caps.
Mr Gotto said: “He’s always been a wonderful character, and has given great service to the club.
“It’s just a tribute to his tenacity that he can still go out and play and enjoy it and be popular with the whole spectrum of the club - it’s not just his generation, of whom there’s hardly any left.”
Coleraine-born Mr Norris still drives to practice twice a week at the club, although he is having problems serving overarm nowadays.
After the presentation, Mr Norris and the Lord Mayor had a knock-about tennis match – in which Mr Norris is said to have triumphed.
Mr Norris added: “I’m overwhelmed by it. I wasn’t expecting anything like this. I’m very grateful.”
n Do you know of any people who remain active as they approach age 100 or past it? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 028 3839 5577