Couples keep love burning strong after 60 years

Plumstead residents, Sylvia and Colin Thompson celebrated 65 years of marriage this year.

Two couples who have been together for more than 60 years, Sylvia and Colin Thompson of Plumstead and John and Andrea Benn of Bergvliet, say mutual respect and not sweating the small stuff are some of the secrets to an enduring love.

Married in the 50s and 60s both couples agree that times were simpler then for relationships. “Our main entertainment was movies and dancing. So it was easier to focus on each other. These days, there are so many distractions and things to do. It’s not easy to commit yourself fully to your husband or wife.” says Sylvia.

The Thompsons’ love story – which culminated in 65 years of marriage with five children, 13 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren – started at the St Raphael’s Primary School playground in Athlone.

Sitting up in a tree, Colin and his friends would shout out, playfully teasing Sylvia to get her attention as she walked by. One day, she stopped and gave him a deathly stare, a look he says he held. As their eyes met, the Thompsons say, each secretly knew the other would be their life partner.

Two years later, by chance, they caught the same train ride from Athlone to town. The conversation that ensued kicked off five years of dating until Colin asked Sylvia’s parents for her hand in marriage.

Sylvia says she had to rope in the nuns at St Mary of the Angels Church in Athlone so she could attend mass before the wedding, on November 2 1957, without the groom seeing his bride.

“He lived right opposite the church, the nuns arranged that I used the side gate just to avoid us seeing each other.”

Colin says the guests knew exactly how much he paid to walk down the aisle: “I was so excited to get to church I forgot to take the price tag off my shoes.”

Any commitment has its challenges, but the Thompsons say mutual respect and putting their relationship first have helped their marriage. They advise couples to never stop dating your partner. And prioritise your money early in life and keep to your plan as money is a volatile subject, especially between newly-weds, they say.

The Benns say they have been blessed with good health during their 60 years of marriage. They have three children and six grandchildren.

As children, their families met on special occasions. Andrea says John was the first person she thought of to accompany a friend who needed a partner to her 21st birthday party.

Andrea says that John took quite a fancy to her friend and he invited her to play tennis with him the next morning. A last-minute change of plan resulted in Andrea, who couldn’t play a lick of tennis, going instead. From there, they started dating.

It took Andrea eight months to accept John’s marriage proposal. John says he held a firm belief that she would say yes.

They were married on September 29 in 1962 at St Martin’s Anglican Church in Bergvliet. John says there were two pastors at the wedding. Their pastor, Michael Norman, was a blind war veteran and, during the height of apartheid, the second pastor served the purpose of checking that the bride and groom were of the same race.

“We all marry for better or worse,” John advises couples. “It’s not always going to be better; there is going to be some worse. But the worst things are usually the niggly things.”

He suggests couples learn to let the little things go. Sleep on it, wake up with the gift of a new day and use it to start afresh, he says.

Andrea and John Benn, of Bergvliet, have been married for 60 years now.