Timeless couple celebrate 64 years of love and life

It was pretty much love at first sight for Laurence Lonergan when he met a young trainee nurse named Margaret.

His sister’s roommate, Margaret had set out on a sooty steam train from Sydney to spend the holidays on the Lonergan’s sheep property near Mudgee. She noticed the good-looking fellow in the broad-brimmed hat waiting at the end of the station, and was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be her friend’s brother.

The couple celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary last week, sharing lunch, some champagne and many fond memories at their home at St Joseph’s Retirement Community at Sandgate, in Newcastle.

Turns out the tall, handsome wool classer was a man of few words in those years and the romance nearly didn’t happen.

“I didn’t see him again for months and months and months – I didn’t even know he was interested,” recalled Margaret. She was focussed on her nursing and admits romance, let alone marriage, “wasn’t on my mind at that stage”.

Laurence finally worked up the courage and phoned to ask her out when he was in Sydney a year later for the wool sales. He wrote letters and persisted.

She visited the farm and liked what she saw. “I thought he was so nice to his mother. He was a gentleman and was such a gentle person.”

They married six years later after Margaret completed her training and had spent some time working, first in Sydney and later in the country. It was the start of a long, happy and fulfilling life together.

Laurence worked on his father’s property and later their own, and also as a wool classer around the region.

Margaret settled into country life. She learnt to drive the tractor, eventually came to terms with the old fuel stove, joined the Country Women’s Association, and was often called upon to do some bush nursing and doctoring. “She was the local doctor,” quipped Laurence.

Their young family eventually grew to five (they now have 12 adored grandchildren).

Life wasn’t always easy of course. A slump in the wool price made them realise they would have to sell up and do something else. It added irony to injury that after 15 long years of waiting, the electricity was finally connected to their home the day before they had to leave it. They moved to Canberra and Margaret recalls staying in a motel the first night while they waited to move into their new home. Their young children were enthralled by the television. Margaret cried and cried.

But they always found great comfort in their faith and life brought with it new adventures, new business opportunities, and many and varied jobs to help them get ahead and make sure their children got good educations. Suiting up as a pest controller was one of Margaret’s more unexpected career turns.

The couple retired to Port Macquarie, on the NSW mid-north coast and later, after Laurence was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, moved to the Hunter Valley to be closer to family. Eventually, they needed more help.

“We looked at seven places that day and then we came here to St Joseph’s,” said Margaret. “My sons said: ‘Oh mum, everyone seems so happy here’.

“It was a different atmosphere to all of the other places we’d looked at. It was homely, and everyone you met, even the people in the kitchen, said good morning. There’s a kindness…”

Laurence was coming in for respite, and their children talked Margaret into looking at a unit as well, taking them at their word that they always wanted to be together when they were older.

The couple have called Calvary St Joseph’s home for the past few years. Laurence, now 90, lives in the residential care home. He wishes it was otherwise, but he is a practical man and accepts that “it is what it is”.  Margaret, a spritely 87, lives close by in an independent living unit. It means the world to them that they can still be together, as best they can, after all this time.

Laurence can see the living room window of Margaret’s unit through his own and Margaret raises her blind each morning to let him know that she is up and about. “He’s always frightened that something is going to happen to me. This way he can check up on me,” she says with a grin.

She walks to visit him most days and they spend hours together, often on the screened verandah off his room.

So, what are their life lessons for a long and happy marriage?

“You know everything in our lives we discussed. Laurie’s really logical, I’m the one who gets really emotional about things,” says Margaret.

“We’ve never had a big row. We get to the problem, he puts his spin on it, I put mine and we work out what’s the best way to deal with it.”

“There’s got to be compromise,” says Laurie. “What do you think,” he asks Margaret, just as he has asked her opinion all these years.

She doesn’t need much time to think about it. “My recipe has always been that if you care about someone else more than you care about yourself … well, it comes back a hundred fold.”