FLEET, JEAN ELIZABETH nee CAREY
Jean Carey was born on the 16 February 1914 at Patea, the daughter of Charles Henry and Annie Elizabeth Carey nee Dowthwaite, and grand-daughter of Matthew and Jane Elizabeth Carey.
In 1915, when Patea was sending its young men to the slaughter in Europe, several of its children were suddenly stricken with a deadly illness. One succumbed immediately. Others were treated for "convulsions", a diagnosis later amended to "infantile paralysis" - the crippling disease we now know as poliomyelitis.
Jean Carey was struck down a week before her first birthday. There followed years of treatment in hospital at Trentham, where the medical technology of the day did its feeble best. But the scourge of polio left Jean with one leg 1½ inches shorter than the other. She did not walk until she was five, and then with the aid of a heavy boot and calliper to the thigh.
But her glowing spirit was already apparent. She was chosen during a later stay at the hospital, to present a bouquet to Lady Alice Fergusson, wife of the Governor-General, who was paying a visit.
Jean did most of her schooling back in Patea. She learnt piano from her aunt Gert Carey who was a double diploma holder, and Jean herself became an Associate of the Trinity College of Music.
She became an apprentice tailor with Jack Dempsey at his shop in Egmont Street. The adventurous Jean went to Melbourne before the war, meeting up with Carey relatives, then came back to work as a tailoress and dressmaker in Wellington. There she met Milton Kingston Fleet and they were married on the 15 June 1940 at Patea. Jean moved back to Patea when Milton did his war service overseas.
Jean was a cheerful, willing and positive woman whose disability was not a factor in the way she lived her life, one of usefulness and service to others. She managed a Patea clothing factory for a time, was a leader of the Girl Guides, organist at St George's Anglican Church for many years, and took her share in other community activities.
She died on the 28 September 1986 at Wanganui - only two months after Milton. Some said she died of a broken heart. She was also the last of the Careys of Patea, her passing ending a family connection with the town of more than 120 years. Jean is buried in the Patea cemetery.
Jack Leigh, Auckland (cousin)
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