DAN Roche, in his 80s and retired from a long career in banking, could never have imagined the day his singing would move his audience to tears.
He was singing to his wife Joan at her 80th birthday party, and the audience was their eight children and partners, and their grandchildren.
He’d been working on this as his special surprise.
“He started singing ‘If you were the only girl in the world’, and I looked and thought ‘Where’s this coming from?’,” Joan said.
“And I looked around and all the grandchildren were crying … and our daughter Mary said, ‘Mum, this is so important for them to see this love between the two of you’.”
Mary and her seven siblings have grown up with it and she knew well that her father had been “besotted” from the time he met Joan.
Now they’re celebrating 60 years of marriage, and their love is as strong as ever.
“If you were the only girl in the world,
and I were the only boy,
nothing else would matter in the world today,
we would go on loving in the same old way”, is the way Dan summed it up in singing the 1916 hit.
It all started when they met at a nurses’ dance in Ipswich.
They had met a couple of years before, but this second meeting was when the romance began.
“Yes, I was pretty keen on her, you might say,” Dan said, recalling that the timing wasn’t the best, though, because soon after he was transferred to work in Commonwealth Bank branches in Papua New Guinea.
“We did our courting by postage for two years.”
“He persevered. He wrote more letters than I did. I’m often ashamed about that,” Joan said.
“It was a romance that grew – so different to today.
“I got to know Danny, really, through his writing – through his letters.
“He wrote such beautiful letters – not soppy letters – funny ones,” Joan said and laughed as she remembers.
“The only romance would be a little ‘X’ at the end,” Dan said.
He returned to Brisbane in 1955, and the pair – both from large Catholic families – were married the following year.
Joan and Dan are quick to say “there’s nothing remarkable about us, really” and that they’re just like so many other couples and families of the same generation.
They also know how blessed they are, because so many people fail to reach the 60th year of marriage because their lives are cut short.
“We’ve been pretty lucky,” Dan said.
“Five of (our children) are married and all their marriages held together, and they’ve got lovely kids.
“And all the cousins, when they get together, it’s as if they just left each other yesterday.
“They’re very close, which is a great joy to us.
“The only sorrow we ever had, really, in our life was the loss of Mary’s daughter, little Alex, when she was three, and that was a terrible blow.”
Joan and Dan and their family counted their blessings when they gathered for a picnic by the Brisbane River recently to celebrate the couple’s special milestone.
When it came time for Dan to make a speech he could not help but give mention to the person at the heart of it all – God.
“I was wondering how I was going to get a message across to them … and I didn’t want to be too Holy Joe about it, so I read ‘Footprints in the Sand’ – our son gave it to us years ago,” he said.
“I read that out to them, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll say no more – Our Lord is with us’.”
Joan said she “wouldn’t say we’re overly religious but we’ve always thought that Our Lord was the third member of this marriage”.
“That does carry you through your crosses. And I don’t think any marriage of 60 years’ standing … it has peaks, there’s ups and downs.
“None of it’s perfect, but thankfully, we’ve been able to go through this.
“And I’ll tell you one of the things that’s been the saving grace – is laughter.”
This couple laughs a lot.
“Well, as I said, ‘The secret to a happy marriage is to find a woman like Joan’,” Dan said.
“And do things together, and talk.”
“Love and laugh,” Joan said, and at the same time, Dan said “laugh”.
Raising eight children, there were times they would’ve been too busy to laugh or perhaps so busy they had to.
But they still found time to devote themselves supporting the children’s schools – St Martin’s primary school, Carina, and San Sisto, Lourdes Hill, St Laurence’s and Iona colleges – and their parishes – Carina and, more recently, Cannon Hill.
For 16 years, Dan ran St Martin’s Parish Purse, a community bank established in the 1970s to help the parish pay off the loan for building its church.
Joan, for a time, was “the tuckshop lady”.
“I can remember at one stage doing five tuckshops,” she said.
“We had San Sisto, Anne had gone to Lourdes Hill, I had St Martin’s (through the younger children), we had St Laurence’s, and I had a kindy.
“Life was generally just busy.”
Joan said “it’s hard to talk about anything other than an ordinary life”.
“It was just you’d marry, knowing full well that you were going to have children, and you want children, and we were blessed with all these children, and they’d just arrive and you’d get on with living,” she said.
“You do what you do. And Dan would go off to work and I’d be the mother.
“And then in no time, I thought, ‘Well, I can go back to nursing’.
“So you worked around that doing part-time, evenings, night duty, weekends – to help stretch the budget to do more for the children. We were always building and extending.”
Looking back over the 60 years, Joan and Dan agree “it’s been a good life”.
“It’s gone like that and (it’s) not over yet, hopefully,” Joan said.
“The carnival’s not over.”
And, in some ways, they’re cherishing their love more than ever but in a different way.
“I do think, love is something that when you marry and you’re in love, you think, ‘Oh, yes, this is the person for me’,” Joan said.
“That’s that love. The love that you grow into, at this time, when you can’t bear the thought of one is going to leave the other – that is truly when you become one and you really are this loving couple.
“That is special.
“That’s something that you never want it to end.
“I don’t want it to end.”
By Peter Bugden