Love letters in the library — the courtship of Bob and Marion
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.
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.
Bob and Marion had 60 years together. He died holding her hand.
Bob asked Marion to send him a picture overseas. She chose this shot, a sunny day on the Beach Strip in the 1940s.