Family

The Auckland 102-year-old who knits every day to help premature babies

Milly McComb has knitted over 4000 garments and has never accepted money for any of them.

By Fleur Mealing

It was 93 years ago when a nine-year-old Millicent McComb first picked up a pair of knitting needles – well actually, they were just sharpened bike spokes.

Now 102 – and with a full collection of proper knitting needles – Milly, as she's affectionately known, still knits every single day, and it's all to help babies in need.

Over her three years at Auckland's Greenvalley Rest Home, Milly has knitted more than 400 garments for premature babies who so desperately need warmth. Though she has never met any of the babies she has knitted for, she continues to get joy out of it.

"I've never been bored with it because you are creating something," tells Milly.

"I have had great pleasure in giving to a person I know will appreciate it."

You could be mistaken for thinking Milly was much younger than she actually is. When the Weekly visits, she is smart in her pink dress with matching cardigan, and basks in the sunlight coming through the conservatory window.

She is a little hard of hearing in her left ear and also confesses to be a bit forgetful on the odd occasion. She also suffers from a bit of arthritis in one finger, which once threatened to end her knitting career, but all in all, Milly is doing remarkably well.

The centenarian even lived in her own home on Auckland's North Shore up until age 98. She is not one to complain either – and, as she insists, there is always someone out there worse off than herself.

Which could explain the knitting. She estimates that in that time, she has knitted more than 4000 garments, most of which she has given away, and she proudly says she has never accepted money for anything that she has knitted, either.

St John Ambulance, the New Zealand Police, Westpac Rescue Helicopter and various hospitals have all been recipients of her knitting. No doubt there are plenty of other worthy causes on her list, but as she said, she is prone to a spot of forgetfulness.

Last year, Milly received a plaque from the Waitemata District Health Board to acknowledge her contribution to the North Shore Hospital Special Care Baby Unit. It all started when her granddaughter, who worked in the unit, asked the avid knitter if she would whip up a cot blanket for them. A blanket quickly turned into two and before she knew it, she was filling bags to the brim.

Now a tiny blue beanie hangs framed on the wall of the unit as a tribute for all to see. Milly never expects any recognition for her work, she is just happy to give to someone in need.

"Honestly, if you make something and the person you give it to loves it, it is worthwhile," she explains.

Milly was taught to knit by her brother's mother-in-law, who told her all she needed was needles and yarn, and she would be home and hosed.

She still remembers the first thing she ever made – a V-neck jumper for her youngest brother.

Since then, she has never created two things the same. She tries for a different pattern or style every time, and saves all her odds and ends to put together into something like the multi-coloured blanket she proudly shows off.

The rainbow blanket was whipped up in four days but Milly says in her prime, she used to be able to knit a pair of baby booties in only 20 minutes.

"I did that for a competition but a Dutch girl beat me. I thought it was darn clever," she says proudly.

If Milly has the wool, she will just knit away from six in the morning until eight o'clock in the evening. Although she is working on something as we speak, Milly insists it may be time she winds down. She thinks she has done her fair whack of knitting and it may be time to hang up her needles.

However, one of the rest home nurses, Sandra, laughs and says it is not likely.

"She has said that before but it just gets the better of her and away she goes again."

read more from