Meet the woman behind a special Norwich Mann

Derek James joins the celebrations of a very special birthday.

That old saying, behind every good man there is a good woman, is so true.

Ruth Mann was the loving wife of one of our most popular and prolific artists, John Mann.

While John (I suspect some of you reading this may have an S J Mann hanging on the wall) was very much a man of the people, Ruth was in the background, making sure everything ran smoothly.

I was always writing about John and his work but never Ruth, so my wife and I were delighted to be part of her special day when she celebrated her 100th birthday at her Norwich home.

John, dubbed the Peter Pan of Painting, died back in 2001, aged 97, but Ruth is still able to live an independent life and says: 'I am very lucky.'

Ruth was born Ruth Garnham in South Lopham in 1910. She was one of eight and her dad, known as Sapper, ran a small building firm.

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When she was 14 Ruth went off to London to work as a domestic servant. 'It was such a different life to the one I had been used to in the country,' she said.

She later returned and arrived in Norwich where she worked at The Assembly House in the days when it was Norwich High School for Girls.

Then Ruth moved along to Pembroke Road where she got a job in a house called Swainthorpe Dairy – strange but true.

The house was home to James Mann, who ran a milk business at Swainthorpe and Shotesham. He then moved into the city, but brought the name with him.

James also had a family of eight and one of his sons was called John and he was the one who fell head over heels for Ruth.

Young John, first name Salem, was the rebel of the family.

After leaving Avenue School he was sacked from seven jobs in two years and then joined the Army and spent 10 years, from 1919 to 1929, in India.

On his return he fell in love with Ruth and they were married at South Lopham in 1933.

'He only just made it,' she recalled.

John had a car accident on the way at Newton Flotman and eventually arrived at the church covered in numerous lumps and bumps.

The two of them spent the next 67 years together and had two sons, Alan and Graham. From 1931 until 1970 John ran his own sign-writing business in Norwich employing several people, with Ruth making sure it all ran like clockwork.

John later became a professional artist. Once again Ruth looked after all the financial matters and ran the house while he got on with painting.

'She was the power behind the throne,' said son Alan, a retired bank manager.

Today, Ruth is still enjoying life and she has five grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

'She has been and still is a wonderful mother. She is a gentle soul and one in a million,' added Alan.