MARGARET Ninness was the love that bound her extended family together.
She owned and worked at several women’s hairdressing salons for more than four decades and was an avid gardener, seamstress and artist.
Mrs Ninness died the day before her 73rd birthday this year after a long battle with motor neurone disease.
Her legacy will undoubtedly be her family and her strongest wish before she died was that they remain close and continue with the family traditions that she created.
She was born Margaret Ellen Shean to Henry and Effie Shean in Orange on April 20, 1939.
Life was tough growing up just after the Great Depression and with world war on the horizon, and the first three years of her life were quite nomadic, as was her father, who constantly moved from town to town chasing work.
Margaret attended Wyong High School but started a hairdressing apprenticeship at The Entrance before she was 15.
She had formed a close bond with her youngest sibling Terry and was shattered when he died before his 15th birthday in 1955.
In 1957, she met a fleet-footed winger from the Ourimbah Magpies called John Gralton at a dance and the pair married two years later at The Entrance.
The couple moved around rural NSW, Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle for John’s work before she started ‘‘The Margaret Salon’’ at Glendale crossroads.
She opened and supervised an additional salon in West Wallsend then added a shoe shop next door.
When she finally retired, Margaret had put 45 years of full-time work into the industry.
In 1976, John and Margaret divorced. The marriage had produced three children: Donna, Terry and John.
Donna married Kelvin Faith who, with his brother, owns an electronics research company; Terry is the production manager of Trident Plastic Manufacturing; and Superintendent John Gralton is Newcastle City local area commander, the head of the command and the boss of 300 officers.
But the high achieving that Margaret had helped nurture didn’t stop after one generation.
Margaret had 11 grandchildren, six of whom are accomplished musicians and one, eldest grandchild Miranda, a constable with Bondi police.
For the last 32 years of her life, Margaret was married to Colin Ninness.
During a two-hour service at a packed church in Lake Macquarie Memorial Park, Ryhope, her family told how special she was.
Donna Faith said her mother was the person everyone in the family turned to during a crisis.
Her mother’s strength during her battle with motor neurone disease had been inspiring.
‘‘She is an incredible example to us and her grandchildren of how to face adversity,’’ Ms Faith said.
Jordan Faith said the family was fostered and nurtured and made stronger by his grandmother.
‘‘Nan was unique in her ability to bring people together, to empower others and make us all the best we could be; she was the glue that we are all stuck together with,’’ he said.
John also paid tribute to his mother’s strength in the face of adversity.
‘‘Even when she discovered she had motor neurone disease she didn’t wallow in self pity; instead she organised an open garden fund-raiser to aid future sufferers.’’
John told a story from his mother’s younger ‘‘rabbit trapping years’’ in Oberon, in the Central Tablelands, with her brothers.
‘‘This prim and proper lady would find rabbits in traps and attempt, like her brothers had shown her, to grab them and pull their heads back in an attempt to induce a quick and painless neck-cracking death,’’ he said.
‘‘Mum would give it a go but she wasn’t strong enough so she would take the rabbit and bang its head on the nearest fence post repeatedly until it received the quickest and most painless death she could arrange.’’
John said despite his mother’s other talents – gardening, designing clothes, painting – she was always fondly known as ‘‘Margaret the Rabbit Killer’’.
Colin said when he met Margaret’s family in Cardiff he instantly felt welcomed by her children and extended relatives.
After a short engagement the pair married on April 27, 1980. In June that year the family moved to Hillsborough, where they were lucky enough to have great neighbours with whom they formed a warm friendship.
Later the family moved to Minmi and forged a friendship with their neighbours there.
‘‘Margaret was a passionate gardener who loved getting out into the soil,’’ Colin said.
‘‘She loved opening her garden up to raise money for Minmi Primary School, Kids Safe and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
‘‘Margaret was a selfless, wonderful loving wife, mother, sister, friend and grandmother to her 11 grandchildren.
‘‘Marrying Margaret was life-changing for me and I am a far better person for being her partner for those 32 wonderful years – but she had that effect on many people she met.’’