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Mike and Heidi’s fan club: ‘She’s our favourite person!’

A very special centenarian shares her age-old wisdom
Heidi and May showing their matching ringsPhotos: Amalia Osborne. Wedding photos: Hannah Baker

When Heidi Ettema married TV news anchor Mike McRoberts, there was one person who almost stole the show on the dance floor – her fun-loving grandma, May Sim.

Clutching hands with her beloved granddaughter and swaying to ’80s hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun, May, then aged 98, was the life of the party.

Now 100-years-old May’s advice to her six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren has always been the same. She says, ‘As long as you’re having fun…’ and ‘Just take it one step at a time’.

“There’s no point complaining, you just have to get on with it,” she smiles. May is chatting to the Weekly from the retirement village she only moved into earlier this year.

Heidi holding May's hands and dancing at her wedding
“Little Gran” at Heidi and Mike’s wedding in 2023

May was born on May 18, 1924 in Scotland. She was three years old when her family immigrated to New Zealand and put down roots in Pukekohe, south of Auckland.

Teased by other children on her first day of school because of her thick Scottish brogue, she stopped speaking to them until she had mastered a Kiwi accent.

“My only friend was a little boy called Teddy,” remembers May. “He was wonderful. He showed me and my younger siblings around the farm, teaching us what leaves to not touch.

“But then he disappeared. When we enquired if he could come and play, his father wouldn’t let us. Later, we learned he died of tuberculosis, aged six.”

An old photo of May and her siblings when they arrived in New Zealand
May was only three when she arrived in New Zealand.

Growing up, May says she was always playing around with people’s hair, so her career path was an easy decision.

“My mother had had long hair all the way down her back, which she cut off and kept. We splayed it out and fitted it onto a board. I used that and learned to do waves and roll it up.

“When I was 15, I went to hairdressing college (there were two in Auckland) before getting a job at a salon in Pukekohe. It was the days of racial segregation, so they didn’t let Māori in,” she explains.

“But when my boss was away on holiday, I would usher them into the shop and cut their hair. We made good friends!”

Towards the end of WWII, May’s services were in demand to style the hair of the American nurses who were billeted nearby at Paerata School. “I remember they had terrible hair, it was dry but we didn’t realise they had been working in the tropics.”

An old photo of May as a teenager
At 15 she trained as a hairdresser.

Once the war ended, someone introduced her to the handsome brother of one of her girlfriends. She still says it was love at first sight.

“When Peter came home from war, he met me and that was the end of that!” chuckles May. “We all used to go to dances every Saturday night at Patumāhoe or Karaka Hall.

“Once, we ducked outside for a quick swig of alcohol. A cop pulled over and said, ‘I hope you girls aren’t drinking?’ ‘No,’ we replied. Of course, we had booze hidden under our long skirts or in the bush outside.”

May and Peter enjoyed 54 happy years of marriage together before he died. She still wears her engagement ring every day – a large diamond surrounded by a cluster of smaller ones.

After Heidi, 39, and Mike, 58, got engaged, the couple commissioned a replica of that ring for Heidi.

Mike, Heidi and May standing together in the couple's wedding day

“My grandma is my favourite person in the world,” says music publicist Heidi. “So, to have the same ring as her makes me so happy. She loves Mike and even swapped TV channels to watch him on the news after we got together.”

Well-loved by everyone and known as ‘Little Gran’, the inspiring centenarian has spent her life committed to community service.

Whether it was baking for the RSA women’s division, leading Girl Guides, delivering Meals on Wheels or doing elderly people’s hair for free, May says it’s good to give back.

Up until recently, she walked every day too (“always right to the top of the hill!”) and when asked what she puts her longevity down to, she believes it is contentedness.

“When I look back on my life – and I honestly don’t feel 100 and can’t believe I am – I’m most proud of always being happy and making the best of what I had.

“There are things that happen that you can’t do much about, other than your attitude.”

May surrounded by her daughters and granddaughter Heidi.
May with her girls.

Her daughters, Christine Kean and Debbie Malthus, agree.

“No matter what’s thrown at Mum – and there’s been a bit over the years from cancer to a hip replacement – she just rises above it with a smile,” says Christine. “If Mum ever complains, you know there is something really, really wrong.”

Debbie adds, “She’s been our rock, we couldn’t have asked for a better mother”.

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