Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. So forget Hollywood for a moment and enjoy a real-life love story...
While Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in one of the greatest romances of the silver screen in Casablanca, another love story was blossoming between Cliff & Jean Collins. It was 1942 and only 15 at the time, Cliff spotted Jean while working as a postal messenger. He came close to falling off his delivery bike when he spotted her sitting inside her Fathers Model-A Ford truck parked across the road from him. On their first meeting he held her hand and he hasn’t let go since.
This week Cliff & Jean celebrated 65 years of marriage, a union which produced six children, 15 grandchildren and in the coming weeks will welcome great grandchildren numbers 13 and 14. Family members are travelling from across Australia to be with the couple at their home on the Sunshine Coast to celebrate this special occasion.
Family is clearly important to Cliff and Jean and they credit this as being one of the foundations of their marriage. “We’ve always done everything together and as the kids grew up our lives revolved around them and their activities,” said Cliff.
Family also brought Cliff and Jean the biggest challenge of their partnership when their eldest son tragically died after an accident playing AFL at age 17. Cliff remembers, “It was a really tough time, but where many couples would have fallen apart, his death actually brought us closer together.”
Despite the odd challenge, life as a young couple was simple and revolved around the cornerstones of family and hard work. Farmers of wheat and sheep, Cliff and Jean retired from the farm in Victoria at 60 to move to Queensland to be closer to their children.
“People today undervalue the importance of the connection between husband and wife,” says Cliff. “The love in a home starts with the parents and is reflected onto the children of the family, who then pass this onto their own children. It’s the most important legacy we can leave.”
They are now aged 85 and 86 respectively and have been fortunate to always had good health. He doesn’t take it for granted though, Cliff begins each day by kissing his wife and telling her he loves her. Their “love affair”, as he describes it, has only grown stronger over the years.
Over the past week, messages of best wishes have arrived from The Queen, The Prime Minister, QLD Premier, Governor General and local politicians. This touching tradition reminds us just how momentous this occasion is. 65 years. With modern couples marrying later in life, marriages of this length will soon be a thing of a past.
How did Cliff and Jean celebrate the day? They enjoyed pumpkin scones for morning tea with their daughter and were treated to a roast lunch with friends. Forget the traditional gift for a 65th anniversary of blue sapphires. After seven decades together, this couple understand that the most important things can’t be bought.
Relationships today are unnecessarily complicated. We spend more time with our virtual friends than real ones and entire romances are conducted (and ended) via email, text and Skype. Cliff’s answer to the secret of a long and happy marriage is frustratingly simple. “A good marriage is like a bank account,” he shares. “Put a little bit into it every day and the richer you will become.” This may be the reason that throughout 65 years together, they have never had a fight.
After the commotion of their anniversary celebrations settle, Cliff and Jean look forward to what is for them a perfect night in: sitting in their matching recliners watching Dads Army DVD’s, and still after 65 years, holding hands.