It was a love of dinosaurs that united strangers across the ocean leading to marriage and now adult daughters.
Actually the dinosaur infatuation belonged to a 5-year-old boy, assuming his mother's friends, who took the time to play dinosaurs with him, shared the same passion. Linda is her name and she was instrumental in bringing our Ruakākā Valentine's couple, Kathleen and Andrew Forsythe, together 25 years ago.
Kathleen explains: "Linda and I were best friends and flatmates during uni days in Canada. In 1996, I was working as a freelance journalist in Hong Kong and she was working with Andrew for a salmon farming company at Campbell River. One day, her 5-year-old son said, 'Hey, Andrew likes dinosaurs and Kathleen likes dinosaurs, I think he'd like Kathleen!'
"I wouldn't say dinosaurs was a particular passion of mine," laughs Kathleen. "But more so Andrew as he had the biology degree and we must've both played dinosaurs with him."
But the seed was planted in Linda's head for her 35-year-old friend and 40-year-old workmate, neither of whom had been married, and in the days before email, she talked Andrew into writing Kathleen a letter, received just before Christmas.
"It was beautifully crafted and he spent the first paragraph introducing himself and his family and the rest of the letter was asking me questions," describes Kathleen. "The paper platform meant I didn't ever get cut off with my answers," she laughs.
Several paper exchanges ensued before their communication switched to the newly-conceived email which sped up correspondence, and then, in April the following year, their first phone call.
"I actually got to hear his voice which was a little strange connecting his voice to the words," she recalls.
This being the days well before Zoom, it was a similar situation when they first met in person in July that year when Kathleen returned to Canada to visit family and meet Andrew.
"He was the person that I knew from our correspondence and we just needed about 24-48 hours to match up the tone of voice and facial expressions, all those cues to make them fit to the person. That didn't take very long and then everything was fine."
They spent two romantic weeks together before Kathleen returned to Hong Kong, followed by Andrew several months later for a visit. In October she decided to move back to Canada.
"We were at a time of life where, if we wanted to progress the relationship, it couldn't be a long-distance relationship for much longer."
Going from being oceans apart to suddenly living together wasn't hard at all, Kathleen recalls – "We just fit together well."
But they faced a crisis on Valentine's Day the following year when Andrew, who had picked up a GI bug, woke at 2am extremely unwell.
"He was sitting on the side of the bed just babbling nonsense. He could barely walk and was stumbling around like he'd had a stroke. He was a real mess. I drove him to the emergency department and he came close to dying. It took several days before they diagnosed it as Addison's Disease, which means, when he gets sick, he gets real sick.
"He's now on medication for it and is fine but I thought he'd turned into a vegetable and I'd be visiting him in a care home," says Kathleen.
The scare proved the catalyst in cementing their relationship. She recalls the doctors asking Andrew questions to see how orientated he was.
"He knew my name but described me as his wife, which was legally incorrect but how he felt about me so shortly after that, we decided to go ahead and get married."
They married in Vancouver in December 1998, had two daughters, and migrated to Ruakākā, New Zealand in 2005 when an "amazing opportunity" with Niwa matching Andrew's experience and qualifications arose.
They say it was "absolutely the right move". Their daughters are now 22 and 20 and the couple both volunteer as St John Ambulance officers.
"That's Saturday date night for us, in the ambulance!"
Has the novelty worn off?
"I don't have that infatuation – can't eat, can't sleep – all that excitement you have at the beginning of an exciting new romance, that's definitely faded on my part but now there's that deeper bond. We've built up so many memories together and seeing our children grow and develop, it's just a lovely, comfortable relationship, very settled and secure," she says, adding that she misses Andrew when he's away.
Kathleen believes their older age may have helped in choosing the right partner.
"I think age helps as we were both fortunate to have had time to reflect on what we were looking for. Andrew was very clear he was looking for a partner to start a family with. He was finding that the women his age had already had families or chosen not to so he'd been thinking he'd have to go with someone a bit younger but he found he just had nothing in common. I was quite surprised I didn't have to do a fertility test before we got married!" she laughs.
She also says it's worth listening to the opinions of friends and family.
"I've always told my girls, if they got involved with somebody and there's a whole bunch of people saying that person's not right for you, then you need to listen to it. In my case, they were saying he was right for you. Linda had a good sense of who we were and there were also no alarm bells from others when they met him."
In fact, they describe Linda as their "marriage broker".
"With the nature of their job back in Canada, they would sometimes have to drive to remote salmon farms and she basically would interrogate him along the way, then send me reports. There were all these really practical, logistical things I'd get from her and then I could get to know him on a more romantic level."
Fittingly, Linda subsequently played a role at the wedding of Andrew and Kathleen, who he jokingly called his "mail order bride from Hong Kong".