“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” Sam Keen, from To Love and Be Loved.
Bill and Jane Otway, both in their 90s and living in Schull, recently celebrated 69 years of marriage. The couple, who retired from Trinidad to Schull in the early eighties, speak to West Cork People about life, love and what makes a marriage work.
Bill and Jane Otway have been a part of each other’s lives for almost eighty years. They have grown up together, traversed a World War together, raised a family together, travelled around the world together, before finally retiring to enjoy the rest of their lives together in a place that after one visit captured their hearts — a tiny village in West Cork called Schull.
Bill and Jane first crossed paths as children. “When Bill travelled from the West Indies at the age of 13 to attend school in England, my parents became his guardians,” explains Jane “I was 12 at the time.”
Bill went on to join the Royal Navy and Jane joined the Women’s Land Army (a British civilian organisation created during the First and Second World Wars to work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the military). When Bill came home on leave in the early forties, the couple began their courtship. It wasn’t long before Bill got down on one knee — on the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral.
The wedding took place in a little Methodist Church in Devon on January 29, 1945. With only one train running on the day, Bill, who had arranged time off from the Navy to exchange his vows, luckily arrived on time. Jane wore an off-white taffeta dress from her wardrobe. She went out and bought some material so sleeves could be added to dress it up for her wedding day. “There was snow on the ground,” recalls Jane “and I remember my mother calling up Bill to make sure he had a tray of rings for me to choose my wedding band from!”
After a brief but very romantic honeymoon in the beautiful coastal town of St. Just-in-Roseland, Cornwall, the couple returned to their respective wartime careers in the Navy and Land Army.
Jane remembers the land army as being hard work but a lot of fun; the women had to do everything from scything grass to feeding the pigs.
“I ended up ‘in’ the pig swill on occasion,” remembers Jane smiling. We had to stand on wooden planks to scrape out the swill into the smaller containers to feed the pigs and of course the planks would get slippery, so in I went…”
After the war, the couple decided to move to Trinidad to properly begin married life together and start a family. They had two sons, John and David.
After a short period, Bill left the Navy to work in the oil business in Trinidad, which took the young family to New Zealand for two years, from 1950 to 1952. “I loved everything about New Zealand and didn’t want to come home,” says Jane.
After moving back to Trinidad, once John and David had finished their primary education, both boys were sent to England to attend boarding school.
Later, on a trip to West Cork visiting friends, Bill and Jane both fell in love with Schull, which reminded them of the lifestyle that New Zealand had offered in the early years of their marriage. They purchased their home in Schull in 1981. “We longed for a cooler climate, and really enjoyed the people and the relaxed way of life,” explains Jane. “I wanted to feel cool on my face and not sweat!”
Over the course of their marriage, the couple have enjoyed doing many things together, in particular the many sailing trips shared on their beloved yacht ‘Nancy Jane’, often taking holidays to Tobago and the other islands of the Caribbean with family and friends.
Although a great age now, both in their nineties, Bill and Jane still love life and each other today. To celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary, the couple took a short break to Casey’s in Baltimore, a place where they have often enjoyed stays over the years.
And the secret to their long and happy marriage…“Good health and a sense of humour,” says Jane smiling at Bill.