Love let­ters in the li­brary — the courtship of Bob and Mar­ion

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - PAUL WILSON

IT’S VALEN­TINE’S DAY. Have you sent your sweetie a let­ter?

Bob Lawrence wrote dozens to his girl, some pretty amorous. And Mar­ion Mortimer kept ev­ery one. She wrapped them up with a red rib­bon and stored them in her hope chest, along with her wed­ding dress.

Bob is gone, and Mar­ion too. But their let­ters now be­long to us all, safely stored in the ar­chives of the Hamil­ton Pub­lic Li­brary.

That’s thanks to the ef­forts of Lynda Wat­son, Bob and Mar­ion’s old­est daugh­ter.

“I wanted the let­ters and mem­o­ries to be known,” she says. “I thought it was a good story.”

She gave the li­brary ev­ery­thing — the let­ters, the tele­grams, the post­cards from ro­man­tic places like Dublin, Ire­land and Sim­coe, On­tario.

It’s all the ma­te­rial Bob sent to Mar­ion. This was not a one-way ro­mance, and Mar­ion sent many, many let­ters to Bob all those years ago. But he didn’t keep them.

“That’s funny,” Lynda says, “be­cause Dad was the more sen­ti­men­tal of the two.”

Mar­ion sent the first let­ter in the spring of 1945. She was 18, work­ing the

lunch counter at the Fed­eral five-and­dime on Ot­tawa Street North. In walked Bob’s fa­ther. He told Mar­ion he had a fine son serv­ing over­seas. Maybe she would con­sider be­ing a pen pal.

Bob was a mail clerk with the RCAF. He was happy to get Mar­ion’s let­ter and sent one back two weeks af­ter Vic­tory in Europe Day.

“They have not stopped cel­e­brat­ing VE yet,” he wrote. “In some parts of Lon­don, they are still hav­ing vic­tory dances out on the street.”

Their let­ters started criss-cross­ing the At­lantic. Pic­tures were ex­changed. Mar­ion sent a leggy snap of her sun­bathing on the Beach Strip. He told her it was too small, but he sure liked the sub­ject. He signed his note: “All my love my dear, xxxxxxxxxxxx Bob.” Yes, a dozen x’s, a dozen kisses.

In the spring of 1946, Bob ar­rived in Hamil­ton by train. His par­ents were at the sta­tion. And so was Mar­ion.

To­gether at last. Bob took busi­ness cour­ses at the Cana­dian Army Trades School in town. And he and Mar­ion went on lots of dates.

But on May 26, 1947, the let­ters be­gan again.

“Tonight is my first night out on the road and I am lone­some al­ready,” Bob wrote from Sim­coe’s Gov­er­nor Sim­coe Ho­tel.

He had landed a sales­man’s job with the Hamil­ton-based Life Savers Com­pany. His ter­ri­tory was south­west­ern On­tario. He wrote let­ters and sent post­cards from his ho­tels along the way — Wind­sor, Sar­nia, Goderich, Hanover, Leam­ing­ton, Guelph, Port Dover, Port Stan­ley.

First, war had sep­a­rated the two. Now, work.

“I seem to be more home­sick this trip than all the time I was over­seas,” Bob wrote from the Mount For­est Ho­tel. “My dear, as you say, we spend half our life wait­ing.”

To­day, they would just pick up the phone. Too ex­pen­sive then.

In Au­gust of 1948, Bob came home to stay and promptly pro­posed. They mar­ried on Aug. 6, 1949 at Grace Angli­can and had three daugh­ters: Lynda, Karen, Cathy.

Bob and Mar­ion lived long and well. He died in 2009, months af­ter their 60th an­niver­sary, hold­ing Mar­ion’s hand. She died three years later.

Lynda al­ways knew of the let­ters, some­times talked to her mother about them. As her par­ents grew frail at the end, Lynda typed out all the let­ters and gave copies to her sis­ters.

But she be­gan to feel there was more to do. She and her sis­ters each wanted to have chil­dren, but none could. So there was no one to whom they could pass on the story.

Lynda sent a dig­i­tal ver­sion of the ma­te­ri­als to the Hamil­ton li­brary, asked if there was any in­ter­est. They said they would be glad to give Bob and Mar­ion’s ro­mance a home. Lynda is now con­tent. “The let­ters are out there,” she says. “They couldn’t be in a bet­ter place.”

First it was war that kept Bob and Mar­ion apart. Then it was work. Let­ters, post­cards and tele­grams kept the love alive.

It took a lot of let­ters to get there, but Bob Lawrence fi­nally mar­ried Mar­ion Mortimer on Aug. 6. 1949 at Grace Angli­can in Hamil­ton.

COUR­TESY OF THE FAM­ILY

Bob sent Mar­ion post­cards from the ho­tels around south­west­ern On­tario where he stayed while sell­ing the Life Savers line, in­clud­ing this one in far­away Sim­coe.

FAM­ILY PHOTO

Bob and Mar­ion had 60 years to­gether. He died hold­ing her hand.

FAM­ILY PHOTO

Bob asked Mar­ion to send him a pic­ture over­seas. She chose this shot, a sunny day on the Beach Strip in the 1940s.

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