REAL LIFE

Down syndrome couple – ‘They said we’d never last.’

This beautiful couple proved the cynics wrong
Supplied

Here, Lindi Newman, 31, tells the love story of  Maryanne and Tommy in her own words.

‘You may now kiss the bride,’ the minister smiled broadly.

My sister Maryanne, 23, stunning in her Cinderella-style gown and sparkly tiara, turned to her adoring groom, Tommy, dapper in his made-to-measure suit.

After sharing a tender kiss, the two danced down the aisle together, their faces wreathed in smiles.

There was more joy – and dancing – at the reception held for 250 guests, after which the newlyweds enjoyed a romantic night at a seafront hotel.

It was July 1995, and at seven years old, I was proud to be one of Maryanne’s bridesmaids.

And almost 24 years on, I haven’t forgotten the love in that church. You could feel it. Everyone could.

Many people said it was the best wedding they’d ever been to. However not everyone was happy.

In fact, our mum Linda, now 69, got a lot of hate mail about the marriage.

‘How could you allow it?’ some said with disgust.

‘You’re a bad mother,’ said others.

The reason? Both Maryanne and Tommy have Down syndrome.

Tommy, Mum and Maryanne
Tommy, Mum and Maryanne (Credit: Supplied)

The couple had been inseparable since first meeting in 1990 at a local training centre for people with disabilities.

Maryanne was 19 and Tommy 13 years older. She brought him home for dinner and couldn’t stop giggling.

‘She’s smitten,’ Mum realised.

Tommy was quiet but Maryanne brought him out of his shell. They began seeing each other daily.

Then, 18 months later, Maryanne came running into the kitchen.

‘Tommy proposed and I said yes!’ she squealed, on cloud nine.

‘Good God,’ Mum thought.

But she’d known from the start that they couldn’t live without each other.

She dissuaded Tommy from buying Maryanne a plastic ring from a vending machine, and took him to buy a proper one from a jeweller.

After the wedding, they lived with us. And when, seven years later, the flat next door came up for sale, Mum reckoned it was time the couple had their own place and bought it for them.

They’ve lived there in bliss ever since, sharing kisses and cuddles every day.

Maryanne and Tommy together
Maryanne and Tommy are so in love (Credit: Supplied)

Now I live over the road with my own family, and act as their carer.

I cook and clean for them and ensure they’re dressed appropriately each day.

Maryanne’s so flamboyant, she’d go out in a pink tutu and a leopard-skin boob tube if I let her.

Sometimes Tommy sings Maryanne his favourite Elvis song, Love Me Tender.

If it comes on the radio, they’ll get up and dance in each other’s arms, regardless of where they are.

Maryanne tells Tommy she loves him three times a day. And whenever she speaks about him, her face still lights up.

They go for walks hand in hand, or visit the local shops. They’ll go bowling or do colouring-in.

In the evenings, they snuggle up in front of the TV, just content to be together. After 10 years they renewed their vows, and again after 20.

Five years ago, Maryanne rang me in the middle of the night. ‘Tommy doesn’t know who I am!’ she wailed.

Tests revealed he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Maryanne didn’t understand what that was.

‘Tommy’s getting old,’ I explained gently. ‘He needs a bit more care.’

Once she got upset with him for forgetting something.

‘Do you want to divorce him, then?’ Mum joked. Maryanne’s face fell.

‘Oh no!’ she cried, running over and covering him with kisses.

Maryanne and Tommy have been married for 24 years
Maryanne and Tommy have been married for 24 years (Credit: Supplied)

After the diagnosis, Mum took them on a mystery trip. As neither of them can read, they had no idea what the signs at the airport had said.

It wasn’t until they were off the plane she revealed they were in America.

‘We’re going to visit Elvis’ mansion, Graceland,’ she announced. Tommy was over the moon. It was his life-long dream. Of course there was dancing, too.

And when I took them on holiday last year, and their room had two single beds, they slept in one bed together.

They were simply unable to sleep apart. Aside from when Tommy went into hospital, they haven’t spent a night apart in 23 years.

Maryanne and Tommy have proved that when it comes to love, anything is possible
Maryanne and Tommy make each other so happy (Credit: Supplied)

Three years ago, I created a Facebook page, Maryanne and Tommy, to show that those with intellectual disabilities can have happy and fulfilled lives.

Your page has given me hope for my nephew, one person wrote.

I hope my teenager finds a love like yours, wrote another.

‘Maryanne, you’re an inspiration,’ I cried.

‘You’ve got 50,000 followers!’

With no concept of numbers, she didn’t understand. So I showed her a photo of a packed stadium.

‘About that many,’ I said.

‘Wow!’ she replied.

Now, 29 years on, Tommy, 61, and Maryanne, 47, are still the most blissful couple that I know.

People said it would never work out.

But they have proved that when it comes to love, anything is possible.

Mum Linda Martin, 69, says,Maryanne finding love is the best thing I could have hoped for.

I wish I could have found a love like it in my life because it’s very honest, it’s very true and a beautiful thing.

Most of us could learn a thing or two from them. Their marriage is a fairytale.’

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