John and Shirley Haddow gaze into each other's eyes adoringly, and it's plain to see the answer to the question they've just been asked.

Yes, they are just as much in love today as the day they married, they confirm. That was 62 years ago and they've been together 68.

"It's actually deepened," says John, 83.

The couple got together as 15-year-olds in their hometown of Surrey. They vaguely remember each other from Sunday school before that but it was at a New Year's party at Shirley's home when they became an item.


It was post-war and party novelties, like jelly, were making a reappearance. The teens were playing an array of games but it was the one involving dice which sparked things off.

"I think it involved the first person who threw a six, got to kiss the girl sitting on the cushion and Shirley happened to be sitting on the cushion. All the guys were furiously trying to throw the dice and I happened to get it so I shot forward and I think some butterflies happened there," recalls John.

A six-year, long-distance courtship followed; they lived some distance apart and John later signed up for the air force. The love letters flowed.

"We still have some tucked away.

"We got engaged after four years because, although we both got the green light of approval, Shirley's father, along with a lot of fathers in those days, wouldn't approve of marriage until the guy was suitably set up and earning money and, as Shirley's dad saw it, that had to be when I came out of the air force. When I asked about marriage, you know what his word was?

"'Premature'," Shirley answers, chuckling.

They were married in a small chapel in Kent in 1955, aged 21, on Christmas Eve as soon as John came out of the air force with Shirley, a soft furnishing machinist, wearing a dress she'd created.

The couple moved into an 18-ft caravan, where they lived for three years and had their first baby. They moved into a cottage before their second baby was due and John, then working in forestry, re-trained as a secondary school teacher.

New Zealand was looking appealing after Shirley's family had migrated and it was spotting an advert for a horticulture secondary teacher in Taumarunui which prompted the couple, by then with two teens, to make the move in an all-expenses government-paid trip.

"The children were very excited about this new country," recalls Shirley.

However, Shirley had always felt that their family was not complete and, while working as an aid at Taumarunui Hospital, she, by then unable to have more children, laid eyes on a little boy in a cot.

"He was three years old and I said to the staff 'What's wrong with that little fellow?' and they said his mother couldn't cope. He had these big blue eyes …"

John continues: "He had an intellectual disability and epileptic fits and so, for me, fostering him was too big an ask."

However, a subsequent calling through their Christian faith lead them to reassess that decision.

"Richard was quite a handful – it turned out he had oxygen starvation at birth so he had brain damage – but we ended up adopting him and, after a year, we found out he had a twin brother so we were challenged again."

The twins were reunited when Leonard joined the family and the Haddows raised them on Great Barrier Island, where they volunteered, before moving north.

Whangarei residents for 28 years, the 'inseparable' Onerahi couple now have five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren and count themselves as blessed.

"I think that very long courtship gave us a very thorough knowledge of each other, there were no surprises. Naturally there are times in life when one or the other of us has got a bit hot under the collar but I think it's about not holding onto anything and letting things go.

"We don't have secrets and we have a joint bank account which we've always had. And one thing I've learnt over the years is that love is very much misunderstood in our society. I picked this up some years ago that love should be spelt C.A.R.E and strongly I've found it so true at times when I've been challenged and found that the romantic love was evaporating a little. Just in caring and putting yourself out to care - it's amazing. So, I think love built on serving one another is the sort of love that lasts."

He adds that the couple don't have many interests in common with Shirley keen on needlecraft while John likes reading and scientific study that leaves Shirley 'stone cold'. However, they are both fond of the garden and used to partake in regular bush walks.

So back to that first question:

"(Our love) has actually deepened. You start with a romantic love but the youth fades. I'm now Shirley's caregiver but I think what has sustained us has been our Christian-based faith, we had excellent role models in our own parents and, at the time we were married, divorce wasn't a run of the mill thing like it tends to be today."

John admits it has been challenging in recent years as, both Shirley's caregiver and house-keeper.

"Women are natural multi-taskers so it's been a learning curve for me taking on the role as caregiver along with some of the housework."

He looks over at his wife and best friend and twinkles: "Shirley often says to me: 'Now you know how it was like
for me'."

Their eyes meet as she chuckles back.