Storytelling was one of her greatest gifts

2010-05-14 00:00

THE recent death of Ethel Newman brought back many childhood memories for some of our readers, some of whom phoned or wrote to The Witness­, fondly recalling the stories Newman wrote for children that were published in this newspaper for more than 25 years

Newman’s stories appeared under her own name in the Saturday children’s section edited by “Aunt Molly” from 1958 to 1984.

Newman was born in Johannesburg in May 1918. In 1923, after the death of her father, she, together with her mother and sister, went to live in England. She was educated at South Hampstead High School and from the age of 14, when the family returned to South Africa, she went to Parktown Girls’ High School in Johannesburg­.

Newman left school at the age of 17 and for two years worked at the Hope Children’s Home. It was her experiences there, caring for disabled children, which inspired her to write stories for children. She had written poetry from an early age and had long been an avid reader. She described herself as a “devout admirer” of the poems and stories of A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh.

Newman married journalist Eddie Newman in 1940. After World War 2 they settled in Port Shepstone where her husband became editor of the South Coast Herald for which she wrote children’s stories and poems.

In 1958 the family moved to Pietermaritzburg­ where she became a contributor to The Natal Witness­. In 1960 she was commissioned to write a series of plays for the SABC broadcast in Midge Doherty­’s children’s programme. In 1975 she published two books, Ethel Newman Storytime part one and two, with illustrations by Val Woodley. She also founded the Jolly Jays, a group that visited and entertained sick children at Grey’s Hospital.

Interviewed by The Witness in 1975, Newman said that she fervently believed “everyone is basically good” and that it was her love for people, animals, and especially children­, which accounted for the never-ending flow of ideas for her stories.

To get inspiration she said: “I just go for a walk and see the children and their animals playing. Then I can think properly and get an idea.”

Newman said that her favourite kind of story was “perhaps the kind in which grown-ups say things metaphorically and children take them literally.”

Her husband died in 2000 after 60 years of marriage. Together they had five children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Newman was still telling stories to local school children at the age of 87 when illness forced her to stop.

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