A death in the family brought Ray and Anne Wilson of Orewa together, and 60 years later they are still married, celebrating their wedding anniversary on July 7.
The couple comes from Londonderry (Derry) in Northern Ireland, where Ray remembers as a young man seeing Anne walking down the street. His father had recently died and Anne, who knew the family, had written him the only sympathy letter that he received. He caught up with her, they started chatting and were soon going out. Two years later, in 1959, they got married. Anne was 21 and Ray 23.
“I remember coming out of that church feeling like the luckiest man alive,” Ray says.
The Wilsons had four children, when, in the early 1970s, IRA bombs began to go off close to where they lived and worked.
“My brother lived in New Zealand and was always asking us to join him,” Ray says. “We decided to move to give the children a different life.”
Their New Zealand life started in Whangaparaoa “by accident”, Anne says, as there just happened to be a house on the peninsula available to rent.
“We didn’t know where it was, or how to pronounce it,” Anne says.
They soon found that 1973 in Whangaparaoa could not have been more of a contrast with the more densely populated, urban life they had left behind. While they appreciated the safety it afforded them, Anne in particular was deeply homesick and Ray says although he loved New Zealand from the start, it was almost too quiet at times.
“We lived on Wade River Road and the people next door went to bed at 6pm!” he says. “We’d get home from work and their place would be in darkness.”
Both Ray and Anne worked in Auckland city and commuting meant taking the bus along the old Albany Road.
“The last bus left town at 5.30pm and you couldn’t miss it,” Ray remembers.
As their children grew up, Ray became involved with the Scouts and the football club, both in Stanmore Bay.
“When our oldest boy wanted to join, the Scouts said they were full and they would only take him if I was prepared to help out,” Ray says.
Ray was instrumental in getting the Scout den built. He also coached at the football club and helped with its relocation to Stanmore Bay Reserve.
He remembers being astounded by the low-key security when the Prime Minister at the time, Rob Muldoon, attended a Scouts fiesta.
“He only had a single traffic officer as protection,” Ray says.
Recently Ray and Anne moved into Maygrove Resthome. Ray has had ongoing heart problems and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“I’ve been in and out of hospital like a rubber ball,” he says.
Anne says the glue binding their marriage has been “a lot of give and take”. It also helped that they were friends before they became a couple.
They had an early wedding anniversary celebration to accommodate family members’ travel arrangements and on the day itself, they had afternoon tea with some old friends.
Their Irish roots are strong, but Ray and Anne agree they are now “Irish Kiwis”, whose four children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild – many still living locally – ensure that the Hibiscus Coast feels like home.