REAL LIFE

Reunited after 65 years

When John and Gwenda separated in the 1950s, they thought that was the end. Then fate intervened
John Porter

John Porter, 87, Narrabeen, NSW

I remember the first time I saw Gwenda like it was yesterday.

In fact, it was 1948. At 19 years old, I was an apprentice draftsman in Sydney, with plans to become an engineer.

With curly brown hair and a sweet smile, she was so beautiful. ‘My name’s Gwenda,’ she said, sitting at the next desk. She’d been employed as a tracer.

We started chatting and quickly became great friends. Soon we were attending church functions, dances and picnics together. Gwenda’s parents welcomed me with open arms. I truly loved her.

But after two years together, we started growing apart. While other people our age were getting married, I didn’t feel ready. We were still so young, so we decided to go our separate ways.

I truly loved her.

Three years later, I was teaching at Sunday school when I met a woman named Joan, also a teacher there. We soon fell in love. After marrying in 1954, we welcomed our four children, Christine, now 59, Bryan, 57, Dyan, 54, and Michael, 52. Moving to Victoria, we shared a wonderful life.

But one day we got the terrible news that Joan had Alzheimer’s. I kept her at home as long as I could. When her condition deteriorated, our family made the difficult decision to move her into a nursing home. There she’d get round-the-clock care. ‘I’ll come and see you every day, ‘I promised her.

One day I was visiting when I got chatting to a lady whose husband also had Alzheimer’s. She lived in Sydney and it reminded me of Gwenda. I wonder how she’s doing, I thought.

As I told the woman about Gwenda, we soon figured out they’d gone to school together! ‘I could get her address for you,’ she suggested.

Before long, I found myself writing to the woman I’d loved more than 60 years earlier. Dear Gwenda, I wrote. I hope this letter finds you well… I told her about my life and asked about hers.

I found myself writing to the woman I’d loved more than 60 years earlier.

The next week, I was pleased when I received a letter back. Smiling, I was thrilled to read she was doing well. But I was also stunned by just how similar our lives had been.

Gwenda had also married in 1954 and had four children, Susan, now 61, Jonathan, 59, Peter, 57, and Janet 53. But sadly, her husband, Daryl, was also suffering from dementia. I penned another letter to offer my support.

Then we exchanged email addresses and started talking all the time. It was such a comfort to know there was someone who understood what was happening to Joan.

Sadly in 2014, Gwenda told me Daryl had lost his battle with dementia. Then in 2015 – after we’d spent 61 magical years together – Joan sadly passed away too. It was such a hard time. Gwenda and I continued to send messages to help each other through.

That December, curiosity got the better of me. ‘Would you like to meet again?’ I asked Gwenda over the phone. ‘Absolutely,’ she replied. So I organised to travel to Sydney for a week.

I was also stunned by just how similar our lives had been.

After nearly 65 years apart, I was incredibly nervous to see her. But I needn’t have worried. When I spotted Gwenda, she was just as beautiful as I remembered her. Better yet, we got on like a house on fire!

We had such a wonderful time together, I knew I didn’t want to let her go again. So after a week, I plucked up the courage to tell her how I felt. ‘Will you marry me?’ I asked after consideration. She wanted her family’s blessing first, but soon Gwenda agreed. ‘Yes I’ll marry you,’ she beamed.

My kids were thrilled. ‘We just want to see you happy again,’ Dyan said. ‘I’ll organise the wedding.

‘Will you marry me?’ I asked

Three weeks later, Gwenda came to Melbourne. She was nervous, but my family welcomed her with open arms. Then we went and picked our wedding rings together. It felt so right.

Four months later, we gathered in Fitzroy Gardens to finally say ‘I do’. Surrounded by 60 of our closest family and friends, it was perfect. The next day I packed my bags and moved to Sydney to live with my new bride.

Gwenda and I on our wedding day (Credit: John Porter)

Every day I spent with Gwenda, I know I’m a lucky man. Now we have found our way back to each other, we won’t be wasting a second.

Gwenda says

When John and I parted ways in the 1950s I thought I’d seen the last of him. So when I received that letter two years ago, I was surprised.

It was lovely to know he’d had a good life, but I knew it was tough to care for someone with dementia. I’m thankful we could support each other.

When John suggested we meet, I thought it was a great idea. I didn’t know what to expect but when John visited, we felt so comfortable together. Our feelings grew and he asked for my hand in marriage. ‘I’ll think about it,’ I joked.

My family were supportive and gave us their blessing. Our wedding day was a beautiful event. I’m so thankful we’ve been reunited. Better late than never!

Related stories