Good things do come in threes, if the Mossman triplets’ long and healthy lives are anything to go by.
Believed to be the oldest surviving identical triplets in New Zealand, and possibly the world, Tim, Henry and Rodney Mossman have just celebrated their 90th birthdays with a party in Rotorua.
With 270 years between them, they have plenty of tales to tell of their misspent youths to their 10 children and 15 grandchildren.
Born in 1923, the triplets grew up on a remote sheep and cattle station in Gisborne. Tim recalls that the worst trouble they ever got into was when they were six and one of them lit a fire in the hay paddock.
Their mother was also a twin, and already had an 11-month-old when the triplets were born. She went on to have seven more children.
Identical triplets are rare, especially before the development of IVF treatment, and Tim, Henry and Rodney share a special bond. Rodney thinks his brothers “are easy to read”, and Tim can recall times when they have been thinking of each other at the same time.
Although they are all deaf from a hereditary condition, the brothers, who were all once smokers, still live in their own homes – Rodney and Tim in Rotorua and Henry in Auckland.
Growing up, the boys were so similar, they all wore different coloured belts when they went off to board at Dilworth School in Auckland at the age of seven. Even now, people struggle to tell them apart.
When Henry was first married, his new bride, Joyce, accidentally hopped into bed with one of his brothers.
“There was one Christmas when my brothers were around. I was sleeping in another room when my wife arrived home,” says Henry.
“She climbed into bed – and of course it was my brother. She suddenly saw a mole on his neck and realised it wasn’t me.”
But there are downsides to the novelty of being a triplet. Henry says the brothers have had a lifetime of struggling to express their individuality.
“The title of triplet has been a mental encumbrance and unwanted personal loss of individuality. If one of us did something silly, we’d all cop it.”
Tim believes the secret to his longevity is partly good luck, a positive attitude and worrying little. And the golden rule he lives by is, “loyalty and tolerance”.
His advice to young people is to learn to be tolerant of those who don’t share their point of view.
Henry jokes that sugar, salt and beer have kept him alive, but adds that his happy marriage is the main secret.
And knowing when to laugh at life helps too. “Life’s full of ups and downs but if you have a bit of humour, it’s not so bad.”
The trio deny being competitive with each other, but that’s not what Tim’s wife Pauline says. She jokes that they’ve reached the age of 90 because no-one wants to be the first one to die.
1923 THE YEAR THAT WAS
• Time magazine is launched
• The Walt Disney Company is founded
• The film The Hunchback of Notre Dame is released
• The United States is at the height of prohibition
• Adolf Hitler leads his Nazi followers in an attempted coup
• William Massey, known as “Farmer Bill”, is New Zealand Prime Minister
• Author Katherine Mansfield dies
• Construction starts on the Sydney Harbour Bridge