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Welly Winner still making her mark in the city

Dec 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, News, Top Picture

LUCKY LADY: At 91, former Wellingtonian of the Year Ruth Gotlieb is lively as ever

LUCKY LADY: Now in her tenth decade, Ruth Gotlieb says she feels blessed at how active and able she still is. IMAGE: Tess Nichol

NET CURTAINS filter the light falling over knick-knacks and figurines displayed on side tables and mantles – it could be the home of any sweet old lady, but this is the living room of Ruth Gotlieb.

Not every 91-year-old has two Wellingtonian of the Year awards sitting in a glass-front display case in their living room.

WELLY WINNER: Mrs Gotlieb won the government and overall categories at the 2010 Wellingtonian of the Year awards.

WELLY WINNER: Mrs Gotlieb won the government and overall categories at the 2010 Wellingtonian of the Year awards. IMAGE: Tess Nichol

She is more than happy to be photographed holding them – “I’m such a skite”- and is also quick to point to the countless photos and press clippings covering the walls of her hallway and back room which document her life’s achievements.

For most people, reaching their tenth decade would be reason enough to gift themselves some hard-earned rest and relaxation.

For Mrs Gotlieb, retirement is an opportunity to focus her energies elsewhere.

She has a full schedule of volunteer work around Wellington which keeps her busy four days a week.

“There’s not too many that would be as active as I am and I do think that that’s one of the reasons that I’m so well,” she says.

Mrs Gotlieb is in remarkable health and her zest for life shows no signs of diminishing.

She still has her driver’s license, which allows her to get about the city to her various roles as a Justice of the Peace (Mondays and Tuesdays), a volunteer at Ronald McDonald House (Wednesdays), and a volunteer shop assistant at Eva’s Attic (Fridays).

On top of that she delivers books to the housebound, drives cancer patients to the hospital and officiates the odd wedding.

Mrs Gotlieb’s passion for her community is long-standing, with her career in public office spanning nearly 30 years.

She has been both a Wellington city and regional councillor, sat on the Health Board for nearly a decade and did a brief stint on the Harbour Board before it became the Port Company.

“During my 18 years on council I served four mayors. Makes me sound like a stallion doesn’t it,” she laughs.

She retired four years ago, near the end of 2010.

“I have always considered it a privilege to serve the people. It’s not a right to be on the council, a privilege. I have loved all of it, the good the bad and the ugly. There is some in all of life, but mostly good,” she says.

Seeing the good in life is something that seems to come easily to Mrs Gotlieb.

She has a warm disposition and is endlessly quotable, full of little anecdotes and one-liners.

“Thank god for a sense of humour. Not enough laughter or love in the world is there? There can never be too much of either,” she says.

She counts her Wellingtonian of the Year win as one of her life’s highlights, recalling how excited she and her sons were when she won.

“We didn’t think for a minute that Ruth Gotlieb would win, just to be nominated was wonderful,” she says.

“I said look, this is unbelievable. I would like to shout it from the housetops that I am Wellingtonian of the Year.”

Her sons had come over from Australia to accompany her to the event.

They live across the ditch, as does her daughter, but she says they still see a lot of each other.

“I swim across often,” she jokes.

Mrs Gotlieb has lived alone in her Miramar home since her husband Gerry passed away eight years ago (“I still haven’t forgiven him for dying on me yet”) and his portrait hangs on the wall behind her.

She and Gerry had a third son who committed suicide, something Mrs Gotlieb says is one of her life’s great sadnesses.

However her relationship with Gerry gave her years of happiness.

“We spent all the money we had and we loved every minute of it,” she says standing in front of a huge collage of family snaps, many of which show her and Gerry hugging tightly, beaming at the camera.

Mrs Gotlieb’s love of Wellington is evident, but she didn’t move to the capital until her late teens.

“I had my childhood in Ireland, and consequently I’m a Kiwi true blue from my head to my toes, but Ireland will always have a little bit of my heart. Yes, it will,” she says.

She says she still celebrates St Patrick’s Day and always wears a green garter for the occasion.

“I used to even show it but of late there’s nobody to watch it. You haven’t got a grandpa you don’t want have you,” she asks, laughing.

Of all her current volunteering, Mrs Gotlieb says Eva’s Attic is her favourite.

“I have to be honest and say the most satisfying has got to be Eva’s Attic by virtue of the fact that we have been able to give so much to so many. Stock costs nothing, staff cost nothing so apart from a bit of rent everything goes to the charities.”

Eva’s Attic is partly owned by her friend Margaret Doucas, who says her friendship with Mrs Gotlieb is one of the highlights of her life.

“Her company is always both stimulating and rewarding and comforting, all at once,” says Ms Doucas, adding that Mrs Gotlieb is one of Eva’s Attic’s best sellers.

“She brings an enthusiasm that has to be seen to be believed in that everyone who walks into the shop, she greets them like a long lost friend or a friend that she’s about to meet.”

Mrs Gotlieb says she does not have any new projects on the horizon.

“I guess I’m just hopeful that I can carry on and do all the things that I have been blessed to be able to do at my age,” she says.

“I’m the luckiest lady in the world.”

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