Real Lives: Inspiration Jess still cuts a dash as she reaches 100

Jess Flemming celebrates her 100th birthday
Jess Flemming celebrates her 100th birthday
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West Lothian former dressmaker Jess Flemming has celebrated her 100th birthday.

She marked it in style, with four separate parties. Ms Flemming was born in Aberfeldy on August 28, 1911 to Frank Neil and Bella MacLeod. The eldest of five children, she had two brothers, Frank and John, and two sisters, Elizabeth and Rose Alexandria. She attended Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy, where she was part of the school hockey team and with no public transport she often had to walk, or hitch a ride on one of the farmers’ carts.

Ms Flemming has a clear memory of her father leaving for duty in the First World War when she was six. She says: “I remember he left the house on his push bike to go to the train station. He was stationed in France with the artillery, and didn’t return until 1919.”

After leaving school at 14, she was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship with a dressmaking firm in Aberfeldy. P&J Haggart was well known in the area, and would often be called upon when the royal family were staying at Balmoral.

Ms Flemming went on to work there for many years, but made the decision to move to Edinburgh, where she was employed with the famous House of Fraser.

In 1941, she married her first husband, Peter, after meeting at the dancing. They went on to have a daughter, Norma, and three sons, Alan, Dennis and James. Ms Flemming later divorced, and went on to marry a further three times. She now has three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Having given up work to care for her children, Ms Flemming returned to House of Fraser when the children were of school age. Because of a renowned reputation, many of her customers persuaded her to open her own business, a fashion dressmakers, in Gilmore Place.

Sadly, Ms Flemming was forced to close the business after a bout of ill health. She eventually retired in 1974 at the age of 63.

But she did not let retirement stop her from being busy. She carried on making dresses for her loyal customers, as well as playing golf, dancing, touring the country in her car and playing cards. And not to be confined to Britain, Ms Flemming also visited many places further afield, holidaying with friends in Hawaii, America and Africa.

Speaking about her many friends, Ms Flemming, who now lives in sheltered accommodation in Livingston, said: “I’ve had a very good life, with lots of friends. I often think of all of the people that have gone, and I have very fond memories.”

Wilma Whitelaw from the Dedrige Good Neighbour Network, one of the day centres that Ms Flemming attends, says: “Jess is much loved by all the members and staff alike at the centre, she’s absolutely wonderful. She’s an inspiration and is always game for anything.”