Skydiving centenarian is 'inspired to live'

27 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom
UCT alumna Georgina Harwood performed her third skydive on her 100th birthday.
UCT alumna Georgina Harwood performed her third skydive on her 100th birthday.

'Inspired to live' is the name of a series of public talks 100-year-old Georgina Harwood is planning to deliver; and with a résumé like hers, it's little wonder.

Harwood, née Mitchell, graduated with a BA from UCT in 1934, but it's her more recent escapades that have grabbed headlines. If you imagined her 100th birthday party would involve much sitting, and perhaps a spot of tea ... perish the thought.

Instead, Harwood jumped out of a plane (yes, it was flying – thousands of feet above terra firma). It wasn't her first time, either.

The centenarian is gaining quite a reputation as a skydiver, having first taken the plunge at a spritely 92, and then again at 97. Hardwood's latest jump was in aid of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), and she's opened an activist page on the website, where people can donate money to buy lifejackets for NSRI volunteers.

Skydiving was just the beginning of the birthday bash. Harwood went shark-cage diving in Gansbaai on 16 March, and took the cable car up and down Table Mountain on 10 March (her actual birthday) – this before spending the evening with 140 guests at a centenary dinner, says her daughter Sue Homer.

All of which begs the question: where does she get the energy?

Homer laughs. "I'm amazed. One thing my mom has always said is that she's blessed with energy. But a lot of that energy is her positive thoughts. Even today – she found Sudoku in a magazine, and she didn't know how to do it; so she asked her grandchildren to help her learn to do Sudoku."

Her mom is "always learning", says Homer, adding that one of her mom's life mottos was that when one found oneself in a community, one should integrate and be of service to that community.

Harwood demonstrated this by co-founding the UCT Mountain Club (which exists today as the UCT Mountain and Ski Club), to curb the high number of deaths and injuries on Table Mountain at the time. This feat is perhaps even more impressive considering she joined UCT on the cusp of her 16th birthday in 1931, and graduated within four years.

Harwood was one of UCT's roughly 600 students at the time, and completed nine subjects for her BA degree. She particularly enjoyed zoology, says Homer, and earned a first-class pass in second-year zoology.

This was a UCT sans Jameson Hall, and Harwood lived in the newly built Fuller House residence. Fuller invited her back to plant a tree as the oldest living resident a few years ago, and by then the landscape had changed almost beyond recognition.

A fleet of 'new' buildings and a much bigger student population has by now changed the face of upper campus; but Harwood's indomitable spirit and lust for life remain constant.

Watch the video of Harwood's third skydive on her 100th birthday:

Watch News24's interview with Georgina Harwood:

Story by Yusuf Omar. Photo by Jason Baker of the Cape Town Skydiving Club

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