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Family, friends help Gay celebrate

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January 10, 2018

Gay Stell (seated) at her 100th birthday celebrations, held at the Benalla Art Gallery last Friday. Gay is pictured with Joan Ambrose, friends for more than 85 years.

Benalla identity Gay Stell celebrated her milestone 100th birthday last Friday with friends and family at the Benalla Art Gallery.

More than 90 guests travelled to the Rose City from Queensland, Coffs Harbour and Melbourne, to help celebrate Mrs Stell’s century birthday.

Special guests included Michael Long and his son, actor Tom Long, Shirley and Max Robertson, Benalla Rural City mayor Pat Claridge, among others,with Mrs Stell’s nieces Jan Bachelor and Eve Nicholl travelling from Melbourne.

With a rolling screen of the birthday girl’s life portrayed in photos, guests delighted at seeing snapshots of her first 100 years.

Mrs Stell said she had an amazing night: ‘‘It is something you don’t do every day.’’

Receiving a letter from the Governor General Michael Jeffrey, Governor Professor David de Krester, Premier John Brumby and the Queen, Mrs Stell said this was the second time she had received these letters.

Referring of course to the acknowledgement and congratulations in 2005 when she was honoured with the Order of Australia Medal for her service to the community.

‘‘Maybe when I turn 110, I might get another lot of letters,’’ she said with a laugh.

A special guest at Friday night’s celebrations was Her Majesty the Queen (in disguise) to personally congratulate Mrs Stell on her centenary celebrations, while a special highlight of the evening was a colourful display of fireworks over Lake Benalla, drawing large crowds of interested onlookers.

With speeches from Mrs Stell’s family, including Dr Philip Bachelor, married to niece Jan, Dr Bachelor captured Mrs Stell’s life in a warm and reflective way.

At the conclusion of the speech, he asked all guests to stand and remain standing if they had known Mrs Stell since 1998, 1988 and so on, as he went back in decades more than 70 years.

Joan Ambrose was the last guest standing. Joan has known the Benalla icon since 1922 when she was nursed by gay as a baby.

Widely renowned as a respected painter for her works of landscape and floral subjects, the Benalla Art Gallery was the fitting venue for Mrs Stell’s birthday celebrations, as she has exhibited her works at the gallery, firstly in 2003 and again last year, although she has no current plans of picking up the brush.

‘‘I did an exhibition last year, it’s just too demanding,’’ she said.

‘‘I’ll just have a rest for a while.’’

Mrs Stell is also well known in the local community for her doll’s house, a 1950s house in miniature that took 12 years to complete.

It includes all manner of intricate household items and accessories — from hand-crafted furniture through to stoves, fridges, crockery and chandeliers.

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