Decades and a diamond for Willeys
THE end of World War II was just on the horizon when Mavis and Howard Willey said “I do”, and on Tuesday, March 24, the Portarlington pair celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.
The pair who are both 96, met through Mavis’ brother who married Howard’s sister, and while it wasn’t love at first sight, she said “he grew on me”.
“I was 18 when we met, we got engaged at 19 and married at 21. I’ve lived in Portarlington my entire life, I was born here, went to school here and worked at the post office until I was married.
“Howard was coming to our place with his sister. He knew fairly quickly he wanted to marry me, I just wasn’t sure whether I wanted to marry him or not, but he grew on me a bit.
“I felt sorry for him and I thought nobody else would have him, so I thought I better grab him,” Mavis said, while laughing.
Howard said getting married at a young age was what you did back in the 1940s.
“That was the thing in those days, anyone not married over 21 was considered left on the shelf. You got married and you stayed married, not like nowadays.
“Over the years there’s been a few occasions where Mavis has been tempted to hang a ‘for sale’ sign on me, but I couldn’t imagine life without her.”
Having experienced the Great Depression in the 1930s and the ramifications of World War II, the pair said they believe a lot of the values ingrained in their lifetime, will soon re-emerge.
“The war impacted our early years you couldn’t get anything. I was on a farm, you had to have coupons to get clothes. For our wedding we couldn’t really wear wedding clothes, we couldn’t get enough coupons,” Howard said.
“The world has changed a lot in our time. They say ‘the good old days’ and some were good, but some weren’t. My dad died from a work accident at 45, mum was left with five kids in the depression,” Mavis said.
“I know what being poor is like, it makes you careful, even now. If we don’t need it, we don’t get it and if you can’t buy it with cash, then you don’t buy it. We were brought up that way.”
The pair had four daughters together and have experienced loss that “you never get over”.
“We had four daughters, Carol, Leonie, Gail and Debbie. When Gail was 10 years old, she kept getting giddy turns. I took her took the doctors and they just kept saying not to worry.
“One day she was home from school and her teacher called and said they were worried about her. He brought her workbook home and when I saw her handwriting, it was something shocking. I took it straight to the doctors and they ordered a scan.”
After the scan revealed an inoperable brain tumour, they put Gail in an ambulance but on the way to Melbourne, she had a convulsion and never regained consciousness.
“She never came back around. That drive home from Melbourne at 2am, I’ll never forget that, it was shocking. Coming home Howard had to stop two or three times because he couldn’t drive.”
The tragedy for the family didn’t end there when seven years ago, the Willeys were having a coffee with their eldest daughter Carol when she collapsed in front of them.
“She was just drinking her coffee and talking and next minute, she collapsed. She had a brain aneurysm and died then and there.
“Losing your child is a loss that you never get over. It impacts you forever, it impacts the whole family.”
For Mavis and Howard, the world is a very different place, and having endured the Great Depression and World War II, they said the way Australians are behaving during this crisis was alarming.
“People are acting so selfish, it’s so un-Australian. People not caring, at one time, everyone would be willing to help one another now they seem to be selfish,” Howard said.
“Sometimes things go around in a circle, the virus I feel is for a purpose. I think we have to wake up to a lot of things and I think good will come out of this afterwards.”
After 75 years as husband and wife, they said the secret to their diamond marriage is accepting and forgiving each other’s faults.
“We have had our arguments now and then. We’re too old now, it’s too exhausting, we have to nap after we argue so we don’t really anymore. Plus, we forget what we’re even arguing about. Whatever our faults are, we accept them in one another,” Mavis said.
“All of the hardships we’ve faced have made us stronger. We are both Christians, that has helped us through the hard times. We have a loving family around us, four daughters, eight grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren.
“We laugh a lot, have a sense of humour and accept one another. Marriage is work, we stepped into and just kept going, that’s life and we wouldn’t last long without the other.”