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Doreen Sheehan enjoying her 103rd birthday with a flight over Grafton. Image: Peter Clement.

Flying high on her 103rd birthday

Lynne Mowbray


While many centenarians would be happy to sit back and enjoy a High Tea on their birthday, Dougherty Villa’s oldest resident Doreen Sheehan chose to celebrate on a higher level, with a flight over Grafton last Friday to mark her 103rd birthday.

Each year during Grafton’s Jacaranda Festival, the staff and residents of Dougherty Villa in Grafton, vote in their own Jacaranda Queen (and king); a title which is held for a whole year. Despite Grafton’s Jacaranda Festival being cancelled this year due to COVID, the retirement village continued their Jacaranda tradition with Doreen being voted in as this year’s Jacaranda Queen.

Wearing a specially designed and embroidered shirt to mark her special birthday and sporting her tiara, Queen Doreen arrived at the South Grafton airport at 9am.

Doreen was greeted by a small group of family members and well wishes, as she set off on her big birthday adventure.

As she made her way down the path to her waiting plane, staff placed her Jacaranda Queens royal cloak on her shoulders, which added to the fun and excitement of this special occasion.

After returning from her almost 40-minute flight, a beaming Doreen told the Independent that her first flight over Grafton, was really beautiful.

“I saw everything,” Doreen said.

“The bridges, the new highway, gee it’s beautiful.

“Years ago, when I went on a bigger plane, I just wanted to get out and play on the clouds.

“We went up in the clouds today and it was bumpy – a bit up and down, but very nice,” Doreen said laughing.

Pilot, Peter Clement said that he has been flying since he left high school – a bit over 40 years.

“I’ve built my own aircraft, I’ve built an aircraft maintenance business here and I’ve now got a flying school, but I’ve also spent 30 years as one of the local paramedics,” Peter said.

“I retired this year, so this is what I’m doing now.

“I’m a RN (registered nurse) as well and I do a couple of days a week at Dougherty Villa, just to look after the oldies.


Peter, who knows Doreen through working at Dougherty Villa, said that Doreen loved her flight.

“She’s over the moon,” Peter said.

“She loved seeing everything.

“I don’t think she stopped to draw breath really; she was just so excited.

“We took off and we circled, and we flew over the river to show her the township.

“We flew over the new bridge and then across to Junction Hill. We went up to see the ferry crossing the river at Ulmarra and we could see Brushgrove in the distance.

“Then I took her over to see the new highway development on the eastern side of the river and followed it up and then I flew her over to see the new gaol, before coming back in and landing.

“All up the flight took about 36 minutes.

“She just enjoyed it so much and I got a couple of photos of her in the aircraft.

“It was just beautiful to see how much she was enjoying the flight,” he said.

Peter’s birthday gift to Doreen, was a free flight over Grafton.

“It does my heart good to actually just give to someone like that; to see how much they appreciate it and how much it lifts them – so that’s been my high,” he said.


Doreen Sheehan (word count 370)

Doreen Sheehan (nee Wenzel) was born at Southgate near Grafton, in 1917 and was one of eight children (Roy, Marie, Donny, Ernie (deceased), Colin, Len and Shirley.

She attended school at Southgate before leaving at the age of 12 to work for a Grafton family – cooking, cleaning and getting three girls ready each day.

Doreen moved to Sydney to help her sister in law with her baby and when WWII began, she stayed there and worked making boots for the soldiers – (her next job was making cigarettes).

Doreen was a keen dressmaker and loved making dresses and slack suits, with all measurements having to be perfect or they had to be redone.

In 1949 Doreen married Thomas Sheehan at Sutherland and they had two children, Colin and Allan.

The family moved around a lot, living at Peakhurst, Mulbring and Doyalson and were looking forward to travelling when Tom retired.

Shortly after his retirement Tom passed away from cancer and so Doreen decided to move back home to Grafton.


Among her hobbies and interests Doreen enjoys watching TV documentaries and true stories, her favourite music is old time and country and western and enjoys reading light mystery’s (boney books) and Di Morrissey. She also enjoys playing solitaire on her iPad.

Over the years she collected thimbles and spoon’s, but her passion is craft sewing, knitting, crocheting and needlework. Doreen recalls making her first pair of underpants when she was eight years old.

Doreen has four sons (two sons John and Reginald, were adopted and are both deceased), nine grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren. She enjoys having visits from family and is always happy talking about her 103 years of life.

Doreen loves storms and says that a good storm excites her and that she rushes to the window to watch it.

Her family describes her as a go-getter and says that there is nothing that she won’t do or have a crack at doing.

With the self-confessed, ‘recycled teenager’ enjoying a spin on a three-wheeler motorbike around the streets of Grafton to celebrate her 101st birthday and a flight over Grafton for her 103rd, who knows what Doreen will have up her sleeve for her next birthday!