Playing a theme of joy

MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE 

The Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics celebrations did not stop the Queen surprising a Wollongong woman this week with a letter to mark her 100th birthday.

The letter arrived in time for today's family celebration for Stella Thompson and proudly sits on the piano at Olunda Nursing Home.

The location is significant - the piano has played a major role in Mrs Thompson's life, which has included living through the Great Depression and two world wars.

Mrs Thompson said she had applied the principles she learned during those events to the rest of her life.

She has spent more than half a century playing music for elderly people in more than 100 nursing homes on the coast.

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Mrs Thompson started playing as Stella Moon 95 years ago, and her motivation always has been to bring joy to others.

Those smiles inspired her to keep playing at nursing homes until two years ago, when she moved into a nursing home herself.

She still occasionally plays for other residents.

Mrs Thompson wondered what all the fuss was about when the letter arrived from the Queen but was looking forward to today's visit from many of her nine grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

Daughter-in-law Robyn Thompson said Mrs Thompson never seemed to get stressed about anything and had never raised her voice to anyone.

Asked what advice she had for others, Illawarra's newest centenarian said: "Just do the best you can. I have always just done the best I could. I've just gone out and done everything and visited everybody I could. You can't do any more than that."

Mrs Thompson, who was a tailoress, lived in Atchison Street all her life until she moved to Olunda. She married Edward Thompson on her birthday in 1934.

She is also a founding member of the Pensioners Association, which built Pioneer Hall in 1953. The hall was one of hundreds of venues at which she played for eisteddfods, weddings, concerts and functions.

When she was no longer able to climb the steps at the town hall, a portable lift allowed her to rise gracefully on to the stage.

Mrs Thompson said she was not feeling her age.

"I am not that old," she said.

"I've had a really good life.

"I've been everywhere playing the piano. I was quite a young lass when I started playing.

"I always played and it was just something I wanted to do for other people."

Mrs Thompson said she would play a tune on her birthday if she was up to it.

She earned a nomination for Australian of the Year in 2006, a Premiers Award, a United Nations International Day for the Elderly Award and a Wollongong Citizen of the Year Award.

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