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Honesty the key to 60 years of marriage for Cobourg couple

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Cobourg couple Shirley and Charlie Williams were married 60 years ago, on Aug. 3, 1957.
CECILIA NASMITH/Northumberland Today

Cobourg couple Shirley and Charlie Williams were married 60 years ago, on Aug. 3, 1957. CECILIA NASMITH/Northumberland Today


Approaching their 60th anniversary. Shirley and Charlie Williams recently got the ultimate compliment from their grandson.

With an Aug. 19 wedding of his own looming, Shirley said, the young man asked them what is the trick of their success.

“Just be honest with each other is the main thing, and tell each each other you love each other every day,” she said in a recent interview.

“And he does that!” she added, referring to her husband.

“He can say it 10 times a day.”

The Williamses were married Aug. 3, 1957, in an England that was still showing the damage of the war in places. A man named Rev. Gordon married them in a pre-fabricated building in Battersea, because the church had been destroyed in the war. The ceremony was not a clearly audible one either — Rev. Gordon had been captured by the Nazis and had his tongue removed, Shirley said, but he was a lovely man.

The couple had two of their three children by the time they came to Canada in 1961. They experienced their share of challenges, when Charlie soon fell ill with rheumatic fever and was hospitalized for three months. They were helped with small cash advances from the Immigration Department, which had to be repaid (they still have the receipts), and Shirley had to go to work. But she has no regrets.

“I enjoyed it, I did,” she insisted.

They moved into the first apartment they’d ever lived in. Then, when that was torn down for subway construction, they

bought their first house on Coleman Avenue.

Shirley worked at Toronto East General Hospital for 32 years, and Charlie was at the Toronto Board of Education for 30. The first 15 years of that time was as a caretaker, he said, and that worked well while the children were young — if both of them had to work the same shift, Charlie could always find a friend to trade off with.

By the time the kids were grown and retirement was looming, they found themselves growing dissatisfied with life in Scarborough. Fortunately, their son Robert came up with the solution.

While he and his wife were attending a hockey game in Baltimore in 1997 and staying at the Best Western in Cobourg, they felt moved to call up his parents and say, “We have found the perfect retirement place for you.”

Their home on Ewing Street was just going up for sale when they had a look. They viewed a few other places too, but came back to the house on Ewing Street, where they moved in 20 years ago July 25. They still love it.

“It’s the best thing we ever did,” Shirley declared.

“We have wonderful neighbours. Now that Charlie doesn’t drive, I have a friend across the road I can call, and a neighbour next door.”

On Aug. 12, their backyard will be the scene of the big anniversary celebration, a party their daughter Tracy is arranging with a British theme (main course: shepherd’s pie).

“We’re just praying for good weather,” Shirley said, hoping for a good turnout that might include their three children (Robert, Tracy and their sister Julia), six grandsons, one granddaughter, two great-grandsons and one great-granddaughter.

The kids’ 50th-anniversary present to them was an Alaskan cruise, a nice follow-up to the Hawaiian trip the couple took for their 25th anniversary.

Shirley’s first comment to her daughter when she heard about the British theme for their 60th anniversary was, “But we’re Canadians now.” Still, the couple are happy expats, visiting what they still think of as back-home almost every year and enjoying telephone visits almost every day with one relative or another.

You couldn’t really say the couple had been blessed with the best of health. Running down what her husband alone has experienced, Shirley lists aneurysms in both legs, an abdominal aneurysm, a heart operation to install a pig valve, and acute macular degeneration that has compromised his eyesight.

But he sails through his surgeries, she said, and the CNIB person who visited him when he got his AMD diagnosis gave him the best advice — don’t give up the movies, bingo games, slots and other activities you love.

“The person said, ‘You can’t sit and tell yourself you’re low-vision. Go out and do everything you love to do,’” Shirley recalled.

But then, both Williamses had a lot of the fighter in them from growing up in Great Britain during the war. Shirley said that her street was hit five times, and she still recalls the family singing to keep their spirits up.

“I find young kids today are not giving it a chance. They have these big weddings and then, a year down the way...” Shirley said.

“You have to give a little to take little,” Charlie said philosophically.

But when Shirley leaves the room to fetch congratulatory letters from the Governor-General and Queen Elizabeth II to show off, he admitted, “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”