Five generations gather in Whistler

At 101, Vancouverite Evlyn Kavanagh has some lessons to share

Evlyn Kavanagh's youthful enthusiasm is contagious.

Surrounded by her kids, grandchildren, great grandchildren and her brand new great, great grandson, the 101-year-old cracks a string of jokes in between proudly rattling off the accomplishments of her many progeny. (The praise is not without merit. Her family is full of lawyers, doctors and at least one pharmacist.)

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Her motto: "Humble people are boring!"

The five generations made up of 20 family members came from various cities in Australia earlier this month to visit Kavanagh, who's lived in Vancouver since relocating from Ottawa in 1959. Holed up in the Lorimer Ridge Lodge, the family has been skiing, feasting (they rotate dinner duties) and visiting with one another.

Part of the reason for their mini-reunion was to introduce Kavanagh to baby Jebediah, the first member of the fifth generation of her family.

"It was quite exciting. He likes me," she said, adding slyly, "All the men like me."

Her secret to longevity? "Stay happy," she said. "No matter what happens, I smile."

But on top of that, she's been the poster grandma for remaining active into old age. In 2002, at the age of 90, Kavanagh's family gave her dance lessons at the Arthur Murray Dance School in Vancouver.

She began to compete and won more medals than she can remember - though she very modestly said they were awarded to her because of her age. Over a decade later, she's now retired from competing, but still dances at the school once a week.

"I don't look like it, but I still dance every Friday night," she said.

In fact, her family traveled to Vancouver nearly two years ago to celebrate her 100th birthday and they danced the night away at the Vancouver Club.

"I was not too well then, but I danced anyway," she said. "The Vancouver Club said they had never had such a good, exciting party."

In Whistler, she's mostly been catching up with her family from across the pond.

How did the whole crew manage to sync up their schedules for the meet-up? Thanks to a gift of plane tickets from Leneen Forde, Kavanagh's daughter, who moved to Australia at age 19 to marry a man there.

After her husband passed away when her children were still young, Forde managed to go back to university. She made a lofty promise to her kids if they'd give her time to study.

"I used to tell them if they'd let me study I'd take them around the world," Forde said.

And she did. In the 1970s, for $5,000, she took the family of six on a ship from Brisbane to San Francisco and on to Vancouver, Ottawa, New York and beyond. Forde went on to become a lawyer and, eventually, the first female governor of Queensland.

"We've been lucky so far," she said, sitting around the lodge's giant dining room table. "We've had bad times, but we've had lots of good times, too."

Some of those good times have been right here in Whistler since the family began to trickle into the lodge on Boxing Day.

"We love to come see the snow," said Gerard Forde, Leneen's son, who first visited Whistler when he was 10 years old. "The family likes to ski."

For Kavanagh, the most memorable part of the vacation has been spending time with her loved ones.

"I don't get to see them often," she said. "They're all so nice and they never say a word against the other one. They don't fight."

It's especially impressive when you consider the number of lawyers under one roof, Gerard pointed out.

"We don't fight," he said, "but we all have opinions."

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