On a chilly Tuesday morning, I sat down with 94-year-old Dorothy Meyer at Settlers Lifestyle Village to chat about what was supposed to be an arts and crafts project that turned out to be a journey back in time.
Meyer’s husband Raymond passed away in 2018 and what he left behind was an extraordinary life with Dorothy and a large collection of beautiful silk ties to show for it. But five years since his death, Dorothy found a way to put the ties to good use while sharing their beautiful love story in the process.
“He always wore a tie”, says Dorothy. “That was just what people did, didn’t they? They would all be smartly dressed.”
To keep his legacy alive - and to put her needlework talents to good use - Dorothy set out to create a unique jacket made of her late husband’s ties to send to her granddaughter, Imogen, in England - who was “very fond of her grandfather”, says Dorothy.
“Both of my grandparents always played a significant role in my life and championed me throughout my younger years and into adulthood”, says Imogen.
“I think of them all the time and now I can wear the jacket and feel closer to them. I can’t think of a nicer way to celebrate them both.”
What came together was a remarkable piece of clothing and a wonderful, wearable history of Ray and Dorothy’s life together.
The pair met on a boat from New Zealand. Dorothy was on her way to Tennessee to do her master’s degree in home science, while her future husband was going to Manchester, England to get his PhD in High-Speed Aeronautics. In the several weeks, it took to reach Panama, the couple became close and even kept in contact when they went their separate ways. “Ray and I corresponded with one another other during the year that I was in the States”, says Dorothy.
Then, when Dorothy and her friend decided to travel after finishing their studies, Ray offered to drive them through Europe.
“He had said that he had a car and [asked] ‘would we like to be driven’ instead of thumbing our way around Europe - which is the way we were planning on going,” says Dorothy. “And we said, ‘Yes, thank you very much. That would be very nice.’”
By the end of the trip, Dorothy and Ray were engaged to be married.
Dorothy loved that her significant other was always well put together and especially loved his penchant for ties. “He always wore a tie because he was a professor at the university”, shares Dorothy. “But even when he was a student in Manchester, he always wore a tie.”
What was just a small detail of a generational uniform became a sweet storyteller of their love.
Ray and Dorothy would buy ties to celebrate big occasions, mark special travels and even convey inside jokes to each other throughout their 62-year marriage.
Ray was an academic man with various accolades - and ties - to show for it. The engineering professor had a tie covered in the gold and navy Arms of the University of Auckland, as well as a tie featuring the University of Canterbury’s Coat of Arms in maroon and gold from his time at both universities.
He also kept ties given to him by the Royal Aeronautical Society and The Institution of Professional Engineers. “He was a member of the institutional professional engineers - now called Engineering New Zealand - but he was president of that for a year”, says Dorothy.
On top of that, Dorothy kept the ties that her husband wore when accepting his PhD award in 1957 and his Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit award in 1997.
From the array of ties, she pointed out a 2000 Auckland America’s Cup tie, four Save the Children Fund ties and a tie from the commemoration of the SS Great Britain in Bristol - the first steamship that travelled across the Atlantic.
What’s more, the ties marked many special moments throughout the couple’s relationship. Dorothy bought Ray a gold-flowered tie for their Golden Wedding anniversary in 2005, which she picked out as her favourite tie in the collection. Also featured were a purple, green, white and gold tie to celebrate their daughter’s suffrage-themed wedding in 1993 and floral ties from Liberty’s and The Victoria & Albert Museum in London - his favourite - during their time living in the UK.
Showcasing the pair’s heartwarming sense of humour, Dorothy revealed a tie covered in chairs that she bought to celebrate Ray becoming a chairman in the corporate world. The tie, to this day, prompts a chuckle from Dorothy.
For years, Dorothy kept her husband’s keepsakes in a shoe box. “I just remember thinking at the time I had to keep these”, she says.
In February this year, she was inspired to create something that would keep her granddaughter connected to her family in New Zealand, while also creating a homage to her beloved husband. And with at least 32 silk ties, she did just that.
“When my grandma first told me about the jacket I thought it would be a very meaningful and special thing. Having something made from my grandpa’s ties it’s lovely in itself but doubly so as it was so carefully made by my grandma”, says Imogen.
The process was deemed tricky and time-consuming, but that didn’t stop Dorothy - and her extensive knowledge of textiles and clothing - from making the jacket by hand.
It took only two and a half months to create a jacket that will be passed down in her family for years to come, if not forever more.
“It’s part of family history”, says Dorothy - and she’s right.
An heirloom that shares the stories of her husband, her marriage and her adventurous life around the world, this bespoke jacket is wearable proof that the most mundane of treasures - whether it be a menu from your first date, the dried flowers from your wedding or a touching, tie tradition to celebrate the big and small moments - can hold the most extraordinary stories.
Cherish these moments, these keepsakes, these memories: for our life all comes down to a couple of ties and the stories they carry with them.
Megan Watts is a digital producer for New Zealand Herald’s Lifestyle and Entertainment section. Her passions include over-priced coffees, The Office puns and honest journalism.