The following article was published in the Newtownards chronicle and is reproduced with the permission of the paper and the writer.
Linfield vice-President Gary Dickson has invited Jimmy and his son to be his guest at tomorrow’s huge Windsor Park game against Ballymena.
A very happy 100th birthday to Jimmy Willis
A centenarian who celebrated his 100th birthday this week said the secret to a long life is his love for God and his family.
James 'Jimmy' Willis, reached his personal centenary on Tuesday and celebrated surrounded by his family and friends.
Born at home at Clement Street, Sandy Row, Belfast, on February 19 1919, Jimmy has resided at Dunlady Manor Nursing Home in Dundonald since last August.
Fresh-faced and mobile, he has no health complaints and does not take any medication despite eating a fry each morning for breakfast and enjoying eating chips as often as possible.
One of six siblings, Jimmy loved football as a child and would play in the street with a ball made of bound up material as no one could afford a real one then, and was often chased by the local constable.
A ‘Blues’ man, he admired Tommy Dickson, ‘the Duke of Windsor’ [Park] who played for Linfield but Jimmy has never actually been to a match.
The son of a war veteran, his father, fought in World War One as an Inniskilling Fusilier and had the top part of his skull taken off with shrapnel from a shell.
Jimmy would often take his father’s ‘piece’ to him as he worked as a conductor on the trams on Shaftsbury Square and Great Victoria Street.
Jimmy enjoyed a career in the Shipyard and then as a bakery delivery driver, a job he landed despite having never driven before.
“The night before I started I was a bundle of nerves,” said Jimmy.
“I went at 6.30am and got in the lorry. I was taking over from a man who was moving to Australia and he was showing me the route of where we delivered to on his last day.
“He asked me if I knew how to drive a lorry and I said ‘to be honest, no’.”
His colleague helped him drive the lorry from Belfast to Larne, at one point reminding him to take it out of first gear.
Jimmy fondly recalls anecdotes of his long life but said that love and tolerance towards others, as laid out in the Bible, are keys to a happy life.
But the real love of his life was his wife Mary, who was known as Maisie, and with who he enjoyed 68 years of wedded bliss.
They met at dance in the Donegall Road when Maisie was aged 17 and he was 22 years-old.
They agreed to meet the following weekend on the corner of Tenth Street where Maisie lived, where it joined the Shankill Road.
Son, James said:“She told her mother Edith. And whenever the evening came that they were to meet again, he was waiting patiently when a lady walked past him, took a good look at him, turned and walked past him again.
“A few minutes later Maisie appeared. He related the incident to Maisie about the woman walking past him earlier and she said ‘that was my mother who wanted to have a look at you before she let me out.’ She said that you looked OK.’”
The pair married in 1943 before Maisie gave birth to their first child Ann, in 1945.
Tragically baby Ann, who Jimmy described ‘as a real wee beauty’ died when she was aged just nine months. They also had sons — James in 1947;, Alan a year later, then Paul in 1953.
Sadly, his beloved Maisie died in May 2009 and Paul passed away in 2016, both with cancer.
Jimmy said:“My wife was very prominent in my life as are my children. She was the love of my life and she was a very beautiful woman.
“I am very fond of all of my family and they are very good to me, so are my grandchildren.”
A Christian for over 70 years, Jimmy said the secret to a long life is adhering to the Bible.
“If you follow the rules of the scriptures you cannot go wrong,” he said.
“My wife was always a Christian but it was around ten years or so before I became one.
“My advice is to follow the Bible, read Leviticus, verses: 16, 19 and 20 where it sets out how you should eat, how you should behave and how you should live and you cannot go far wrong with that.”
A fan of Facebook, Jimmy enjoys spreading God’s word online as well as engaging in political debate.
He said that in his 100 years, he has witnessed a number of changes in the world.
“I have seen a lot of progress,” he said. “At one time you had to be very rich to own a car, but now everyone has one.
“And now there’s things like Facebook and there is peace here.
“But there is still some evil around, in fact I think there is more these days than in my time.
“I think a lot of young people have still a lot to learn but the advice I would give is that if you do what is right, you cannot go wrong.”