Graham Bell knew a good thing when he saw it, or her, as the case happened to be.

As the MC at Mrs Carlson's regular Saturday night dances in Wellsford, young Graham would announce the next waltz with a stirring, "Gentlemen, take your partners," and then leap down from the stage to claim Ena Carlson before any of the other chaps got to her.

"She was a popular dance partner. Her mum taught her well," Graham said. His dancing must have been up to scratch too, Ena marrying him at the Wellsford Anglican Church on January 10,1953 — and they are both still smiling.

"The best thing in my life is him. He does everything for me."

Patricia Bell was the bridesmaid and Bill Partington was Graham's best man. And the honeymoon?


"Our life is our honeymoon," Ena said when the couple celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary, although Graham did offer the information that they spent a pleasant time on Waiheke Island.

They've been back there in more recent times, thanks to their gold card, and found it much changed since 1953.

Ena was born in the Coromandel, where her father was a bushman. With the kauri all milled, the family moved to Ngaruawahia, then to Wellsford, where Mr Carlson her father found employment at the limeworks. Her mum taught dancing, and was admired for her skill as a dancer.

Graham grew up in Wellsford, where his father ran the local bus company. The Bell family home is now a vet clinic on the main road.

With seven buses to run, Graham was conscripted to help at a young age. The story is that he learnt to drive a bus by the time he was 8 years old.

A few years later he would leave school just before 3pm and get the buses parked up, and ready for the drivers to take children home.

He was finally able to borrow the car on the day he sat his driving test. He "officially" began driving buses in 1946, and was popular with the young folk of the area, often delivering a busload of them to dances in Auckland.

"Those trips were blamed for many a marriage," he said.


By 1952 he was doing the Wellsford to Auckland run four days a week for New Zealand Road Services, and one day a week to Whangārei via Mangawhai.

After their wedding the couple moved to Waiuku, where they developed a market garden, and Ena became involved in Anglican Young Wives and the Country Women's Institute. She also arranged the flowers for the local Anglican church in Waiuku.

Graham and Ena have been community-minded all their adult lives, both joining the Manchester Unity Lodge at 16.

In 1980 they took over the Blue Pacific Motel at Taipā, Ena also working as a cleaner and Graham driving buses. He had agreed to fill in for a fortnight, but was still at it 10 years later.

In 1987 they moved into the house they still call home at Tokerau Beach, Ena becoming a regular sight on her daily 21km walks to Rangiputa. Many people have commented that they were inspired by seeing her marching along the road.

Ena said she had always loved walking, and had countless half-marathons around the country to her name, with Graham as back-up in the car. She even managed to fit one in that was scheduled on the day of an important family wedding, completing it the day before.

Asked if they had any words of advice for couples just starting out, Ena said, with a giggle, "Just carry on. That's what I did," Graham added that "Give and take" was important, as was being "fairly compatible."

And he had clearly earned the eternal affection of his wife: "The best thing in my life is him. He does everything for me," Ena said.

Ena is not in the best of health these days but still likes to get out for a stroll down the road, if a friend goes too, while Graham keeps busy making sure all the daily tasks are done.

The couple raised five sons who have produced seven grandchildren, many of whom plan to visit later in the year to celebrate Graham's 90th and Ena's 86th birthday.